About the search for Dave Hepper

The search and rescue (SAR) operation looking for Gabriola Island resident Dave Hepper ended last Wednesday, March 23rd. SAR command reported that the official search and rescue volunteers spent more than 1738 hours on this search. 112 of these hours were put in by Gabriola firefighers, who assisted search teams on the first evening until the early hours of Monday morning. Probably another 30+ hours were put in by GVFD members that is not reflected in that total.

SAR teams performed an intensive search over a wide area that was considered the most likely place for Dave to be found. They also searched many more places that were not-so-likely, but needed to be checked anyway.

These volunteer teams came to Gabriola to help in the search:

Up to 60 SAR personnel per day were involved in the search. Many island residents were also searching. These ‘convergent’ volunteers, as the non-SAR people are known, were mostly not registered and their hours not accounted for, but I believe the estimated 200 people would have accrued a much higher number of hours while searching. They were asked to not enter the primary grid search area and to concentrate on areas such as the 707 park. (Due to BC’s safety regulations, SAR members must take 100 hours of basic training courses before being able to participate in searches.)

The total man-hour figure does not include the time spent by the RCMP, helicopter and fixed wing searches, the harbour patrol boat and coast guard auxiliary that dropped off beach searching personnel. The aircraft and harbour patrol boats are equipped with the latest FLIR (heat detecting) cameras, which were used during the searches. Gertie volunteers assisted by driving searchers to the various areas that they were assigned to cover.

A team from Gabriola Emergency Social Services prepared many meals for the searchers in the fire hall kitchen over the 3 days, spending about 95 hours in the process. Food was also donated by Gabriolans to support the SAR teams.

This was probably the biggest inter-agency operation in Gabriola history.

In spite of the extensive search, much of it in heavy rain in the dark forest, Dave was not found by the searchers, but by friends the following day. Conditions had improved and the bright sunshine revealed his body about 40m off of a trail in an area that had been searched during the previous days. Search dogs had been deployed in the area but the heavy rains and prevalent human scent apparently covered the tracks.

Dave’s body was recovered on the evening of Thursday, March 24, bringing a sad end to this story. Based on evidence they compiled, the RCMP believes that Dave passed away early on Sunday, before the search had even started.

During a debriefing at SARs headquarters in Nanaimo on March 29, maps with all the GPS search tracks were shown to reveal the extent of the search – and the fact that searchers had come so close to Dave’s location without detecting him. A discussion of what went right – mostly everything – vs what didn’t revealed the depth of care these people extend to these endeavors. Their disappointment at the outcome was obvious.

What they also said at the debriefing revealed a lot about our community. They have never experienced the level of community support that they did here. From the food donated to various businesses not charging them for supplies to people paying for their meals in restaurants they were overwhelmed at the generosity. In spite of the sad outcome, we have a lot to be proud of as a community.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to help search for our fellow islander.

A final note: the SAR team members who searched for Dave are volunteers. They spend a significant amount of time and effort in taking courses, practicing and developing search expertise… and, of course, using their skills when a search is needed. When they are called, they leave their homes, families, pets, and jobs, dropping everything to help as much as they can. As if that isn’t enough, they often have to do significant fund-raising to buy the equipment they need.

If you’d like to show your appreciation for the immense effort these teams made in coming to Gabriola and searching for Dave, please consider making a donation to help support them. Any funds you give will help to ensure that teams are properly equipped for future searches. The names of the SAR teams who helped us are above; click a team name to visit the team’s website, where you will probably see a donation link.

Our nearest search and rescue team and the lead agency in this search is Nanaimo Search and Rescue. Their website links to this page at Canada Helps, where you can donate, if you wish. A receipt for income tax purposes will be provided.

Boat fire at Page’s Marina

boat-burned-pagesYesterday we responded to a boat fire at Page’s Marina.

Luckily no one at the scene opened the boat up. If that had been done fresh air would have fed the fire, allowing it to grow in size before fire crews were prepared to extinguish it. The fire was determined to be of an electrical origin, and smoke was venting from various locations. Once a charged hoseline was in place we ventilated the interior, and an attack crew entered to locate and extinguish the fire.


This photo shows firefighter Syreeta Caron (left), preparing to go down to the dock as part of the fire attack team. She has donned SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) and a lifejacket. Firefighter Kyle Clifford is doing the “buddy check” – checking Syreeta to make sure she has no exposed skin.

Christmas Food and Toy Drive, 2015

It’s nearly time for the GVFD’s 4th Annual Food & Toy Drive!

On Sunday, December 6th, the GVFD will place wrapped totes around Gabriola to collect your food and toy donations. Then, at 5pm, we will begin our drive around the island in our decorated fire trucks to collect the totes. Please check the posted maps and schedules to see where/when we will be stopping in your neighborhood. We’d love for you to come and meet us and give us your donation in person. We’ll have Christmas music and candy canes!

Everything we collect will be passed along to PHC for distribution to fellow Gabriolans in need.

Thank you for your continued support.


The toy drive went very well, in spite of being the proverbial dark and stormy night. While the crowds were not large, the donation boxes were stuffed! Bill and Dimitri delivered the loot to the PHC, and it appears to be even bigger than last year. We will update later with that info.

Thanks Gabriola for supporting us in this endeavour. Our FF’s enjoy undertaking it  as well.

November 16th structure fire

gabriola-nov2015-fire1Yesterday morning Gabriola firefighters were woken at 5:36 am by a page that said structure fire. We responded and found a fully involved building – the fire was so dangerous that firefighters could not enter. We did what we could, but were not able to save the house. Once the fire was out, we were sad to find that a person had perished in the fire.

The photos here show what we saw soon after we arrived on scene.

We know you will share our sorrow at the loss of life in this fire. Perhaps this would be a good time to take a look at your own home to make sure that you are as safe as can be, and that you’ve done what you can to make sure that a house fire will not be in your future.

Know CPR? Please volunteer to help!

When somebody near you needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), can you help? If so, please volunteer to be a GoodSAM responder.

GoodSAMApp is a network of Smartphone Activated Medics. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, and all CPR-certified first aiders are invited to become responders within this system. To volunteer, start by downloading the GoodSAM Responder app for your smartphone. Select the link you need:

Then you head over to goodsamapp.org and click the “I am a” link on the navigation bar. Select the category that desribes your skill level, like First Aider. You’ll be asked to upload a photo of your CPR or medical credentials for verification. Choose GoodSAM as your verifying organization. They’ll check your credentials, then approve your application.

Once GoodSAM approves you as a responder, the GoodSAM Responder app will keep tabs on your location through your phone’s geo-location features. If somebody near you goes into cardiac arrest or has some other life-threatening emergency, you can be dispatched by GoodSAM to help. Once activated, the system will send the three nearest GoodSAM responders to the scene, so that they can perform essential life-saving tasks before offical responders arrive. For the patient, this can mean the difference between a good outcome and a bad one.

On Gabriola we have fire department first responders, and BC Ambulance paramedics. They are sent to medical emergencies. But it takes us time to get to the patient, and what if you’re just around the corner or down the street? If you’re nearby and you know what to do, it makes sense to send you first. And this is what the GoodSAM program can do.

So please, install the app and sign up if you can help. If you’re qualified and need assistance getting the app onto your cell phone, let us know and we’ll help you get sorted out.

For lots more information about the GoodSAMapp, see goodsamapp.org. The six minute video there gives a good overview of the program. We have a GoodSAMapp page on our website, too.

You’ll be hearing more about the GoodSAMapp in the next while. Please help us spread the word about this life-saving network. We want to have dozens of certified responders on Gabriola, and we need your help to achieve that.

Gabriola fireworks photos, 2015

Last night ghosts, goblins, witches, princesses, monsters, zombies, and other assorted creatures of the night joined us at Twin Beaches for the Gabriola firefighters’ annual fireworks show. Here are a few photos of the event. (Click on any photo for a larger version.)

(If you’d like to share these photos with your friends, please direct them here to our blog at http://gabriolafire.ca . Please do not re-publish these photos elsewhere. Thanks.)

Within the next few days we’ll be counting the change people put into our fund-raising boots. We’re hoping there will be enough money to buy fireworks again next year!

GVFFA Fireworks show 2015

Adjustments to the show this year, caused by a change in the level of the tide at showtime, means the fireworks will be fired from the parks shore edge, instead of the beach.

Regulations being what they are, the public and the bonfire, etc. must be kept back a prescribed distance, which in our situation, puts the barriers around the location the level changes in the park.


This is unfortunate, because this section of the park is the first area to get flooded when it rains, and with a weather prediction of Pineapple Express levels of rainfall we see the potential for a last minute change.

Should that be the case, we will post an update on Facebook.

Update- the weather cooperated and the show went off without a hitch. People seemed to like the new arrangement and thoroughly enjoyed the show.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed to the fundraising for the show. It wouldn’t go on without you.

GVFD open house this Saturday

We’re having an open house! It’s on Saturday, October 10th, 2015, from 11 am until about 2pm. Please come join us at Gabriola’s North Fire Hall at 730 Church Street.

Gabriola firefighters will be on hand to show you our fire trucks and equipment. We’ll have one of our trucks running so that kids can hold a fire hose, open the nozzle, and flow water from it – just as we do when something’s on fire. And maybe you’ve always wanted to sit in the driver’s seat of a fire truck? Here’s your chance!

There will be a fire extinguisher course – come learn the proper way to use your extinguisher. Don’t have a fire extinguisher? Buy one from us at a great price.

We’ll tell you about our new address sign program, and you’ll be able to order a highly-reflective address sign for your house. If you’re in trouble you want us to find you quickly, and this will help.

There’ll be hot dogs, too. :-) See you there?

Gabriola hallowe’en fireworks, 2015

This year hallowe’en is on a Saturday, so that’s when we’re having our annual fireworks show at Gabriola Sands Provincial Park (Twin Beaches):

Saturday, October 31st, 2015, at 7:30pm.

We’ll have a massive bonfire, and fantastic fireworks. Come in costume, if you like!

Firefighters will be serving hot dogs and hot chocolate. There will be candy for trick-or-treaters.

You can support this event by putting money in our Hallowe’en fireworks boots. You’ll see them at some local businesses, and at the event. You might find firefighters asking for donations in the ferry line-up, too, or elsewhere in on Gabriola. Please contribute so that we afford to buy fireworks and other supplies.

Hear the beep when you sleep- smoke detectors

New sensor technology as well as battery improvements have evolved a new generation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that last for their entire 10 year life without having to install new batteries.

This makes the problem of retro fitting existing houses with dectors extremely simple, especially now that installing a detector in every bedroom has been realized as a sensible thing to do, and will be required by the building code.

One company, Kidde, manufactures units for various areas-kitchen, high ceiling, combination carbon monoxide and smoke detection, as well as units with lights built in.

Other than vacuuming them periodically there is no maintenance required for their entire lifespan, and most importantly , they function during a power outage when people are more likely to have a fire start from the use of candles.



Electric weed-eater policy change

With the continuing extreme fire hazard, we have weighed the risk factors and concluded the use of battery powered or corded electric weed eaters, with nylon line, used in early shift (before 1pm and watching the site for an hour following) likely poses less of a risk of a fire than the long grass itself.

Therefore we have removed them from the list of restricted items whose use is prohibited under these regulations.

A charged hose or fire extinguisher must be in close proximity as a precaution.

It’s best not to try to cut the grass so short that you end up firing rocks and dirt around, and therefore increase the risk of an ignition of nearby combustibles.

Wildfire quiz

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has a wildfire quiz for you. In just 11 questions, they’ll tell you if you’re a permanent permafrost dweller or a fire-dragon slayer. Once you’re done you can view the answers to make sure you really know all the stuff.

We hope you are all fire-dragon slayers!

Fire behaviour in the wildland/urban interface

At the recent community hall meeting, many people asked what they could do to help. Our primary message was to be prepared to look after yourself, and not add to the burden of the emergency services.

Another huge contribution would be to ‘fire smart’ your property- remove the fuels, be they twigs and ladder fuels or oily rags and other sources of combustion.

The following 20 minute video is is used as part of a training program for firefighters who respond to wildland/urban interface (WUI) fires. It gives a reasonable perspective on how a bush or forest fire might spread, the various fuels that will spread them, and what you can do for yourself to enormously increase the chances of your home surviving such an event.

RCMP seek info about July 9th fire

We responded to a bush fire on July 9th. Here is the RCMP press release about that incident:

On July 9, 2015 at 2pm Gabriola Island RCMP responded to a request for assistance from the Gabriola Fire Department in relation to a brush fire located in the 700 block of Church Street which they were currently battling. Upon police attendance a burned area of brush, grass and trees was located beside a dirt trail leading into the forest off of Church St. Due to the location and nature of the fire it was deemed suspicious by Fire Chief Jackson and police. A witness observed a Caucasian male riding a dark coloured bike, no shirt, short brown hair with a backpack enter the trail area a few minutes prior to the smoke being observed. Police would like to speak with this person of interest to determine what if anything they know about the fire that started there. Gabriola Island RCMP and Gabriola Fire Department would like to remind everyone to be extra vigilant with open flames in the current dry conditions and to actively report any suspicious activity or fires immediately to the proper agency. Anyone with information is asked to call Gabriola Island RCMP or if they wish to remain anonymous they can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Debris fire

Debris fire on July 10th, 2015Two fire pages came in just before 3:30 on July 10th. One was for a structure fire, and the other a bush fire. Crews arrived on scene at the structure page to find a pile of debris burning in proximity to a building, a boat and a utility trailer. The fire was quickly knocked down, while other crews searched for the bush fire. It was soon determined these were the same event, much to everyone’s relief. It is thought the fire started in amongst some paint cans and possibly some oil or solvent covered rags.

No one was home at the time, and neighbours and passersby called 911 and worked to contain the blaze and remove lumber from the proximity.

I understand this is another area with poor cell service, and the caller had some problems getting through to the 911 dispatchers.

Bush fire, July 9th 2015

gabriola-bush-fire-church-july2015Just before two this afternoon, we responded to a bush fire. It was in the woods off Church Street, at the side of the trail that runs from Church Street to Tin Can Alley. Our firefighters were on scene quickly; we contained and extinguished this fire before it spread.

The cause was undetermined, and the RCMP are looking for a person of interest who was seen in the area minutes before.

Click on the photo if you’d like to see a larger version of it. Photo credit: Nigel Denholm.

Wildfire: a community hall conversation on Gabriola

This is what Carol Hemrich wrote after Sunday’s meeting. With Carol’s permission, we are pleased to share her article with you.

On Sunday July 5th 2015, Gabriolans gathered at the local community hall to express concern, ask questions, and share information about preparedness and action in this summer of extreme fire risk. The fact that nearly 400 people attended a meeting that had been arranged that very day is indicitive of the level of concern felt when we awoke to an eerie, out-of-this-world, glowing orange pall to the sky. People came wanting answers and a plan of action. They got a dose of reality.

We live in a community, as with all communities everywhere, with a finite set of human and equipment resources. We are experiencing a summer of severe drought that is occurring across the entire province and beyond. Through lower than expected levels of rain we are already at a Level Four drought. The result has been the province erupting into 60+ wildfires this weekend alone. We have seen the consequences of extreme weather elsewhere in the world. Now it is our turn.

The message of the evening, delivered by Fire Chief Rick Jackson, RCMP Constable Jan Hendriks and ESS coordinator, Shirley Nicolson, was that we are individually responsible for our own plan. The firefighters will be fighting any fires and the three RCMP officers will be dealing with issues of public safety and provincial emergency services will be assisting with minimum levels of service for people who are evacuated from their homes (for a maximum of 72 hours). The rest is up to us.

Experience elsewhere has shown that in times of crisis people pull together. That is what is needed here now, in advance of any severe situation. Our best defence is at a neighbourhood level, neighbour assisting neighbour. Citizen action is the order of the day.

How can we help? What can we do?

Today: ensure that you have a reflective house number, viewable from the road at night, so that first responders can quickly respond to any calls.

Constantly be alert for any indication of fire with heightened vigilance now that we are experiencing smoke from wildfires elsewhere in the province.

Carry a fully-charged fire extinguisher in your vehicle so that you are prepared to deal with any newly emergent fire situation you may be the first to encounter.

Carry a charged cell phone, if you have one, so that 911 call can be made as soon as necessary.

See broken glass lying at the side of the road or on a trail? Pick it up! Prevent a fire.

Meet with your immediate neighbours. Do you know their names? Their addressess? Do you have their contact information (e-mail and phone number)? Have you discussed the human and material resources available to you in the immediate vicinity? Who has access to a large water supply? Who has medical training? Who has skills and tools that would be useful in an emergency? Who is vulerable? Elderly? Alone? Compromised mobility? Breathing difficulties that would be affected by levels of smoke in the air? People with infants and children? Who has pets and livestock? Refresh this information now. Have that conversation now.

Carry the Fire Duty Officer pager number with you at all times (250-755-9289). This is the number to call for concerns of unsafe behaviour, non emergency situations that need to be investigated, such as the recent use of fireworks on the island.

Be diligent if you see someone driving with four-way flashers or flashing headlights. This is a firefighter, paramedic, or doctor attending a call. Give them the right-of-way!

Become involved if you see someone behaving in a potentially dangerous manner… challenge anyone who tosses out a cigarette butt… smoking should be done indoors only during this time of drought. Be aware of the total fire ban and the restrictions on usage of power tools and inform others if necessary.

Follow local FM radio for updates on emerging situations: The Wolf 106.9FM and The Wave 102.3 FM.

Pack and carry a Grab-and-Go bag in your vehicle or have it at your door. Assume that when you leave your house during this extreme drought, you might not be able to get back. Have your ID, your family contact information, medications/prescriptions, extra eyeglasses, water, a change of clothers, items for personal hygiene, have cash on hand (ATMs will be down in a power outage), a crank/solar powered radio, photos of family members and pets, important documents, insurance papers.

Keep your gas tank no less than half full so that you don’t run out.

If evacuation becomes necessary, police or fire vehicles will drive through a neighbourhood with sirens and loudspeaker alerts.

You are responsible for the people living on either side of you. Yes, you. Are they safe? Can they get out?

Take responsiblity. Take action. This is what will determine the outcome of this time of extreme risk for our community. If something needs to be done, take control. Some individuals left the meeting determined to get a sign put up at the Nanaimo side of our ferry terminal alerting visitors and new residents to the reality of our extreme fire risk. If something needs to be done to ensure our safety and the best outcome for our island, do it. That is how this meeting happend. Do not point fingers at others in the community. Take the action yourself; collaborate with your friends and neighbours.

Shift that consciousness!


We are now at that level of extreme fire hazard where shutdown is in place. Most powered equipment- gas, diesel and electric- have restrictions under this category. Building construction tools, such as table saws and air compressors that are safely located may be used. There are also certain low-risk industrial activities- such as digging a foundation- that are also permitted. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact the Fire Officer on duty at 250-755-9289.

« Older Entries Recent Entries »