Column: The risk firefighters face working on our behalf

Across Canada, firefighters risk their lives to keep our homes and our communities safe.

Across Canada, firefighters risk their lives to keep our homes and our communities safe. But on Wednesday of last week, a catastrophic house fire on Iverson Road in the Lindell Beach area struck close to home and, tragically, firefighter Brian Smyth with the Columbia Valley Volunteer Fire Department suffered a cardiac arrest while trying to fight the blaze. Last weekend, he passed away.

Smyth, just 57 years old, sought medical attention and was treated on the scene. He was transported to Royal Columbian Hospital shortly afterwards and was on life support for two days before passing away peacefully in the presence of family and friends. Yet, still, he reached out to others in death, donating his organs to save lives.

Those who fight fires are precious heroes and British Columbia is blessed to have over 3,900 firefighters. Having experienced the horror of a house fire firsthand, I know how competent and efficient these skilled people are. They rush toward danger when others are scrambling to try to find a way out. They are there at the critical moment when rescue, help, and support are needed the most and they have the words of comfort and focus to help those in panic and distress.

Fighting fires is stressful, dangerous work and the heat, the urgency and the speed at which they must work play heavily on their own physical and mental health. Last year the provincial government recognized the degree to which men and women put their health at risk.

Last May, Bill 17 amended the Workers Compensation Act to recognize that if a firefighter suffers from heart disease or heart injury and was employed as a firefighter at or immediately before the date of disablement, it is to be assumed the heart condition is due to their work as a firefighter unless proven otherwise.

“Our government appreciates the important work that firefighters do for the people of our province,” said Shirley Bond at the time, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour. “Firefighters expose themselves to significant hazards and we want to provide further protection for these men and women who help to keep our communities safe by recognizing heart disease and heart injury as presumptive diseases.”

Michael Hurley, President of the BC Professional Firefighters Association, expressed appreciation when Bill 17 received Royal Assent. “Firefighters are exposed to a real toxic combination through their work on a daily basis. This, along with the heat and mental stressors faced by the profession, means that heart injuries due to the nature of the job are a reality for firefighters. We have always known that, when we go to work, our health is at risk.”

Earlier this week the British Columbia Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial was held in Victoria at which 12 names of firefighters who had paid the ultimate sacrifice were recognized, including Smyth. Bells tolled for each lost hero. Hundreds converged on the capital to remember them.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Smyth’s family, the Columbia Valley Volunteer Fire Department, and the community,” said FVRD Board Chair Sharon Gaetz. “We are deeply saddened.”

“I know that Brian was well loved by his fellow firefighters and a respected, longtime resident of the community,” said Taryn Dixon, Electoral Area H Director. “His presence will be greatly missed.”

A full Line of Duty funeral is planned. The funeral will be held at the Chilliwack Alliance Church, 8700 Young Road, on Friday March 20. The formal procession will begin at 11 a.m. and information on the procession route will be posted on the Fraser Valley Regional District’s website www.fvrd.bc.ca once it is finalized.

Farewell Brian. And thank you.