Christina Lake fire chief Joe Geary joined the department last winter, after 11 years with the Sidney fire department on Vancouver Island. (File photo)

Christina Lake fire department sees leap in training under new chief’s tenure

Fire chief Joe Geary has been on the job for one year and has spent $35,000 on members’ training

In one year on the job as Christina Lake Fire Department’s first paid chief, Joe Geary has hauled his crew of 21 firefighters to new levels of training and competencies.

Geary explained at the Area C Christina Lake Open House on Jan. 29 that his department spent approximately $35,000 on training for its volunteers, amounting to around 32,000 hours of education and practice for things like rope rescues and other certifications.

(The members’ rope rescue skills were put to the test last December, when a car slid down an embankment off Hwy 3, east of Christina Lake, and firefighters were required to rappel down the slope to help the passengers).

Geary said that one half of all of the department members were fully trained through all relevant certifications, meaning that they could theoretically be hired on at a paid department. Several more members are completing their training over the next few months, while a handful of 2019 recruits are catching up as well.

Looking forward to 2020, Geary said that the department will have three major priorities: retrofitting a pontoon boat to be useful as a fireboat, acquiring a new tanker truck and pursuing a smoke detector program with safety walkthroughs of Christina Lake buildings.

The department spent much of 2019 fundraising for the fireboat, and collected about $16,000 from its efforts, Geary said. Though the boat-access-only community at the lake does not yet pay into the Christina Lake fire protection service, Geary said that the fire boat will be effective to handle lake rescues and waterfront fires as well.

Last June, a lakefront residence on Ritchie Road caught fire and the department struggled to get access to the building – its trucks wouldn’t fit under some of the branches that stretched across the driveway.

“It created a lot more work for us to run our lines down that driveway to try and get to the house,” Geary said of the trees, shortly after the fire.

With a boat, Geary said at the open house, the department could have attacked the blaze from the shore.

The department also had to douse a grass fire last summer that, as Geary put it, was only accessible “by car.” Firefighters ended up using the RCMP boat to access the fire.

But beyond the boat, the department’s biggest capital cost ($324,000) will be for a new tanker truck, something that Geary said is needed to replace an aging model.

The department is working on getting the fireboat converted and ready for the water by summer 2020.

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