Lillooet Fire Chief Darren Oike has been honoured by Governor General Julie Payette.
On Oct. 1, Mayor Marg Lampman presented Fire Chief Oike with The Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal in recognition of 20 years of loyal and exemplary service to public safety in Canada.
Previous recipients from Lillooet include Dan Storkan and Warren Shaw.
Presenting the award to Chief Oike, Mayor Lampman said that when she meets with officials from the Ministry of Forests, they all speak very highly of Chief Oike and the work he does. “That reflects on our community, on our staff and on council. That’s why we’re very pleased to have Darren with us.”
Chief Oike joined the Fire Department in 1994, but took a four-year leave of absence from 2012-2015 before returning to the department. In addition to his service as fire chief, he has also been deputy fire chief and chief training officer. He has also been a member of Lillooet Rescue, Fire Services Co-ordinator for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and Fire Services Co-ordinator and manager for the First Nations Emergency Society of B.C.
Reflecting on his 20 years with the Lillooet Fire Department, Oike says he joined because his friends were joining and his dad Tad was a volunteer firefighter.
“I kind of grew up with it,” he explains.
His number one memory is the time he spent with older firefighters – Brian Duguid, Bob Hall, Roger Graham, Bob Graham – who mentored and taught him.
“I give thanks to those guys – they taught me a lot that I use today,” he notes.
Chief Oike adds that today’s Lillooet firefighters are a great bunch to work with.
In his 20 years, he’s seen many changes in firefighting training, equipment and techniques.
“We’re doing more and more training all the time,” says Oike. “In earlier days we didn’t do officer development, you just learned as you go. But we’re keying in more on those types of thing because firefighting is becoming more technical. It’s not just ‘Put the wet stuff on the red stuff’ anymore,”
He’s looking forward to the arrival of Lillooet’s new fire truck in June of 2019.
“Trucks have changed. You’ll see in a new truck we’re getting new innovations in preserving water using a compressed foam system. We’re using more air and foam rather than water because we don’t have water to fight a fire on the East Lillooet. So we’re having a look at more of those types of things,” he says. “We’re also looking at ventilation and positive pressure attack to force air in to push smoke out of a building so we can see better. In the old days we used to crawl on our hands and knees and we try not to do that as much as possible because it’s our lives at stake. We’d rather walk into a fire and fight than be on our hands and knees and not be able to see.”
The Lillooet Fire Department has a complement of 24 firefighters. And the department is also focusing on its Junior Volunteer Firefighter program for youths ages 16 yo 18.
“They practise as we do,” Oike continues. “They don’t respond to fire scenes because we can’t put minors in harm’s way. Our hope is to encourage these young women and men to join after they come of age. And it’s not just for here – if they move away, they have those skills. We had four junior firefighters but of course some have gone away to college, so we’re at two right now and hoping to recruit more.”
He said his philosophy is to do more than put the wet stuff on the red stuff. His emphasis is on educating people on fire prevention. That means training fire department members, including the junior firefighers, to speak knowledgably about fire prevention techniques.
“People on the street know who our firefighters are and expect them to know about what to look for in a fire extinguisher or a smoke alarm.”
“The biggest philosophy I’ve always had is that if we can prevent fires from happening, we’ve done our job,” he says. “It’s not just putting the fire out, it’s preventing it from ever happening.”
To that end, the Lillooet Fire Department is also focusing on FireSmart planning. The District of Lillooet, working with the department, will be using a mapping program called Light Switch.
Chief Oike explains, “We can do a survey on our telephone that links to an online system and it actually links to a rating so we can set it up to rate high, medium or low hazards that will be individual to the house. That way, we can get immediate information on where we need to focus our strategies, and on which neighbourhoods or properties are higher risk so that we can go and talk to people about it. And then we go back and re-survey.”
That’s definitely a long way from putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.