If you’re visiting Oliver and are alarmed to hear a loud ghostly note heightening to a long whirring crescendo, fear not, you do not need to take cover or run for the hills! Our beautiful valley brimming with vineyards and orchards is not about to be bombed.
What you hear is a nostalgic piece of history, a siren, that is still being used by the Oliver Volunteer Fire Department, in addition to a much more modern system, to signal firefighters that they are needed at the hall asap!
“It’s a throwback to the old days before we had pagers,” said Officer Scott Schaffrick, who was temporarily acting as fire chief at the time of our interview. “That was the only way to call members years and years ago.”
Oliver residents still appreciate this practice. It’s not only an endearing reminder of how long the Oliver Volunteer Fire Department has been fighting fires in the valley — 100 years this year — but it lets us know that something is going down now!
“Drivers will often pull over when they see vehicles with fire plates on them,” said Officer Schaffrick.
Each volunteer firefighter has one on their personal vehicle to identify them as a firefighter.
The siren sounds each Thursday evening to signal practice at the firehall. At other times, it tells people that firefighters are on their way to an emergency and to be alert.
The siren used to be sounded at any time of day or night during a fire emergency, however, it is now only sounded between 8 am and 8 pm.
Nowadays, 911 dispatchers transfer calls to the Fire Service which then notifies firefighters of an emergency via pagers and a phone app. All of the pertinent information needed to get to the scene and conduct an assessment asap is now communicated this way.
The Volunteer Team and Fleet
The Oliver Volunteer Fire Department is well-equipped with 37 volunteer members and a large fleet of apparatus used for different purposes.
The Oliver Volunteer Fire Department fleet includes:
- two command vehicles to support deployment crews and the fire chief;
- two fire engines each with 1000-gallon tanks to fight structure fires;
- two tenders with 2000-gallon tanks that deliver water to fire engines;
- two bush trucks used as first responders and for fighting bushfires;
- one rescue truck equipped with extrication tools to aid in car accidents as well as gear to aid in water rescues;
- and one utility vehicle (crane truck) used for training purposes and for pulling obstacles out of the way during structure fires.
Money earned from last year’s forestry deployment will go toward a new side-by-side all-terrain vehicle that is used on difficult mountainous terrain. It is also useful for getting to emergencies quickly on the river dyke.
How difficult is it to become a firefighter?
Becoming a firefighter is a little harder than it used to be as there are many more safety rules to follow with the Fire Service.
First, applicants must pass an extensive physical fitness test on air. They are required to run through a course carrying out tasks that they would normally be expected to handle on-scene.
Aside from testing their fitness level and coordination, there is another important reason for having applicants run the course on air.
“We want to see how they react to having an air mask on because some people panic with claustrophobia,” explained Schaffrick. “It’s important for us to know before we hire them.”
They must also pass a two-phased (competency and lifestyle-based) interview process. Following that is an eight-week training program held on-site each Thursday.
“Approximately the fourth or fifth session, we take them over to a burn-building at the training ground to get them used to having fire rolling over their heads, getting hot, and trusting their gear,” said Schaffrick.
Training is ongoing. Instructors teach members various skills including first responder first aid, swift water rescue, and how to fight fires on wildlands. They also bring in old cars and chop them up for different rescue scenarios.
The Rewards & Challenges Of Fighting Fires
In addition to team camaraderie and fun, being a firefighter is a big commitment and not for the faint of heart.
“When you’re in town, you’re on. There is no ‘Oh, I’m off today,’ because we always have a pager on us,” said Schaffrick.
“There are lots of times when we get paged out at 4 in the morning and then by 7, it’s time to go to work,” Schaffrick continued. “There are lots of long nights. And then, of course, the accidents, we come across scenes that people don’t want to see.”
Thankfully, in addition to debriefs after every incident, there are resources for firefighters to help them cope with any trauma. The department is very good about double and triple-checking with its members after incidents. The town also provides counseling to assist members when needed.
For Schaffrick, fighting fires is about helping people and the community and seeing the results when the outcome is good.
“In the Nk’Mip fire, we saved a lot of homes,” said Schaffrick. “It’s good when the outcome is good.”
Would he make the same decision to become a firefighter again? Without any hesitation, it was a hands-down, “Yes!”
Prepping for Forest Fire Season
In May, the Oliver Volunteer Fire Department preps for forest fire season. They check tanks, run pumps, and ensure everything is in optimal working order.
They also run a large scenario on Wilson Mountain where they practice how to handle different scenes based on the size of the fire, whether there are spot fires, and anything else happening.
In summer, the fire department is on high alert, especially during crossover – the hottest point in the day with the least humidity.
“Last year, during the heat dome, crossover was at 10 am,” explained Schaffrick. “But a lot of times it’s two or three o’clock in the afternoon when we’re on highest alert, because if a spark hits the grass it’s going.”
The Most Memorable Historical Incidents
Some of the most memorable incidents since Schaffrick has been involved with the fire department include:
- the large 2010 mudslide near Road 16 which forced the evacuation of 25 properties;
- the 2011 fire that destroyed the newly renovated Southern Okanagan Secondary School;
- the 2015 wildfires (Mount Kobau, Wilson Mountain, Testalinden Creek);
- and last year’s Nk’Mip Fire which was the largest at an estimated 20,066 hectares.
Celebrating 100 Years! BBQ, Games, Demos & Live-Music!
On July 9th beginning at 11 am, the Oliver Volunteer Fire Department is holding a free open house event to celebrate 100 year’s of being a fire department. Bring the family down for some demos and fun activities!
Kids can run through a fitness course that is set up similar to what new recruits would run through. There will also be relays and demonstrations, including a kitchen fire demo that shows what happens when you throw water on burning oil and why you shouldn’t do it. There will also be an auto extrication demo as well as a structure fire demo to show how fast modern-day fires burn due to the use of polyurethane in new construction.
At 6:30 pm, doors open for an adult-only ticketed event including a hamburger barbecue and an evening of music and dancing with Rebel Luv and The Tanner Olson Band. Liquor sales, including Firehall Brewery beers, are available.
Tickets are $10 and available for purchase at Gerards Farm Supply, Lordco Auto Parts, and Dubh Glas Distillery. You can also purchase concert tickets by e-transfer via firstname.lastname@example.org and pick them up at the event.
“Extinguish Your Thirst” at the “Old Firehall”!
Come enjoy a cold artisan brew and a fun friendly atmosphere at Oliver’s popular Firehall Brewery! Find them downstairs at 6077 Main Street inside the “Old Firehall” which was originally built in 1948 to house the volunteer fire department.
Enjoy a roster of delicious and appropriately-named ales including the Kick Axe Lager, White Hat Whitbier, Backdraft Blonde, False Alarm Bitter, Stoked Ember Ale, and Holy Smoke Stout, as well as small-batch seasonal brews including the creative and popular Code Red Cherry Ale, available in late spring!
Enjoy a cool vibe inside the tasting room, socialize at the bar, or relax outside on a spacious patio with friends. Pair your ale with something delicious off the menu like nachos, wings, burgers, fish tacos, or sliders.
Check out the Firehall Brewery events calendar! There’s lots going on including Live Music Concerts, the Beer Shop & Social, and Firehall Trivia.