Service calls to the local fire department have seen a consistent increase on Hornby Island over the last several years.
Hornby Island Fire Rescue chief Doug Chinnery said there were 179 service calls on the island in 2017, which is a record high for the local volunteer department.
The second busiest year was 2016 when there were 140 service calls. The Hornby Island Fire Rescue (HIFR) averaged 120 calls per year between 2005 and 2017.
This year has already proven similarly busy for the HIFR, with 24 calls in 2018 as of Feb. 27.
According to Chinnery, an aging — and increasing — population on Hornby Island could be one of the main reasons for the rise in service calls. He said the vast majority of calls are for medical emergencies.
“Of the 179 calls last year, 131 were medical-related,” he said. “There is a constant climb due mostly to an increase in medical calls.”
Since Hornby Island doesn’t have its own ambulance service, the HIFR is the first responder to medical incidents on the island.
To help cope with the increased workload, the HIFR applied to the Comox Valley Regional District this year to upgrade Chinnery’s position as fire chief to a full-time designation.
There are currently 24 volunteer firefighters on Hornby Island, which Chinnery said is eight more than last year.
“In order to spread the load, we are [also] putting a huge effort into training our five new and three returning members and ensuring that our existing members keep their certifications current in order,” he said.
Roughly 1,000 people live on Hornby Island year-round. However, the population sees a sharp increase in the summer, when vacationers retreat to the island.
Chinnery said call volumes are typically at their highest during the summer months, when the island’s temporary population can reach as high as 5,000.
On the other side of the Lambert Channel, the Denman Island Fire Rescue service (DIFR) is seeing a similar increase in call volume.
Denman Island has a similar population and demographics as Hornby, though it sees fewer seasonal residents in the summer.
Fire chief Don Luckett said the department saw a 60 per cent increase in service calls in 2017 compared to 2016. He said the department responds to 72–80 calls per year on average, but responded to 120 last year.
“The most important thing from last year was the severity of some of the call-outs, which was the big change for us,” he said. “We saw more deaths last year than we have in a long time. That’s something we’re addressing this year.
Luckett said the DIFR also responded to more vehicle accidents last year than usual.
“We’re still a small rural fire department and we’re dealing with volunteers, but they have to be trained to the same level as a career fire department,” he said.