British Columbia

Village of Zeballos reinstates fire service after volunteers step up

The village shut down its volunteer fire department in May, after the council said it did not have enough volunteers, and enough training, to maintain service. After the shut-down, the village worked with the local First Nation, the regional district and a consulting firm to successfully find and train enough volunteers.

Village works with First Nations, regional district, consulting firm to find and train enough volunteers

Zeballos has a population of 126, which makes it hard to muster enough volunteers for a fire department. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Residents of Zeballos, B.C., and the neighbouring Ehattesaht First Nation can breathe a sigh of relief now that the area's fire department has been reinstated. 

In May, the village announced it could no longer provide fire service because its department — which is staffed by volunteers — had too few members, who hadn't had enough training.

Zeballos, population 126, sits on an inlet on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island at the end of what is essentially a logging road, 86 kilometres from Port McNeill, the nearest town. 

When council suspended fire service, it immediately put out a call for new volunteers and got together with other governing bodies to try to find a solution.

The two nearby First Nations, the Ehattesaht and Nuchatlaht, as well as the Strathcona Regional District and the Office of the Fire Commissioner, held virtual meetings and a consulting firm was brought in to help. 

Since then, more than 20 volunteers have stepped up and got training and, four months after it suspended service, council has voted to reinstate it immediately. 

Pete Nelson-Smith, the village's chief administrative officer, says the shutdown was a wake-up call to community members. 

"Nobody wants to live in a community that they know doesn't have somebody that can respond in an emergency," said Nelson-Smith. 

The volunteers range from local shop-keepers to teachers. 

"There really is a solid representation of both the First Nation and the village. And that's a huge, huge win and really important for everybody," said Ernie Polsom, the consultant hired to help.

Both Polsom and Nelson-Smith say the regional district, along with fire departments in bigger communities of the north Island, have provided support and will continue to help with training.