Volunteers at the Topley fire department are on call 24/7, ready to fight fires, give first aid or rescue people from crashed vehicles within their area.
Responding to roadside emergency calls in the 40 km area between Forsyth Road and Rose Lake, as well as up to 22 kms up the Granisle Highway, Topley Fire Chief Byron Sketchley says vehicle crashes account for 85 to 90 percent of their calls.
The stretch of highway between Houston and Burns Lake used to be known as the black hole because there was no emergency response for vehicle accidents in that area, said Sketchley.
But now the Topley Volunteer Fire Department gives 24/7 roadside rescue and first response medical service for both vehicle accidents or other medical emergencies, connected by the 911 system and run from dispatch in Prince George, said Sketchley.
The fire department also does fire response within a 13 km radius of their fire hall, covering about 500 homes in total and lowering the insurance costs for Topley landowners, said Sketchley, adding that it lowers his insurance by 25 per cent.
Sketchley says that with no fire hydrants in Topley, insurance companies consider it a semi-protected area because of the fire department, whose two fire engines and two trucks can hold 22,000 gallons of reserve water.
The department has eight medically-certified first responders and 19 volunteer members total, 10 men and nine women, said Sketchley.
Connecting with Houston and Burns Lake fire departments only for the occasional training, Sketchley says volunteer members take training courses when they can, and then bring the ideas back to Thursday night practices and train other volunteers.
“And when we say volunteer, we mean volunteer,” said Sktechley, adding that volunteers don’t get a penny for their work, and the department itself actually gets very minimal money for it’s operational costs – covered by tax money through the Regional District of Bulkley – Nechako.
In recent years the Topley fire department has gotten a few community gaming grants to pay for new equipment, including a $30,000 grant last year that bought them some new basic sets of gear, about $5,000 a set, to replace some of the outdated gear they’ve been donated, Sketchley said.
The Topley fire department has been built on volunteer work and donated materials right from the start, with most of the fire hall materials donated by the old Equity Mine when it was shutting down, said Sketchley.
And during the first five years it was run completely on fund raised money, he added.
“Yeah, we were all hitting burnout,” he said. “It was getting really hard to do all this fund raising and try to keep the fire department going.”
So they held a Topley referendum and property taxes now cover their operation costs.
Next summer they plan to hold another referendum to ask for more funding so they can run better and provide better service to the community, said Sketchley, adding that he is very grateful for the community support they’ve received over the years.
“I’m really happy with the support of the community. Given the size of the population in the area that we are in, to have the membership the size that we have, it’s really good,” he said.
Sketchley says more volunteers are always needed and welcomed, and anyone interested can come to a practice, 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday night, or call him at 250-696-3348.