Hi All - My name is Charlie Boyte and am the fire chief for the Pender Islands in BC Canada. I joined the fire service in 1983. I have seen and learned a lot since then and hope to learn lots more from all the folks heading to Boston in May. I am looking forward to the trip east and the opertunity to meet some of you.
Pender Island is located about half way between Vancouver BC and Victoria BC in the pacific south west portion of Canada. If you have been to Washington State we are about five miles north of the San Juan Islands. Our fire district consists of two Islands joined by a bridge with a total area of about 32 square miles. The area is home to about 2500 residents many of which are not here full time. In the summer months the population grows to between five and thousand people including residents and visitors.
Just to be clear; Pender Island is just that, an Island. It is separated from urban centers by a ferry system that makes a few runs each day to our island community. That means mutual aid support is at minimum hours away unless it is coming by helicopter. After 10 pm each day you need to be very good swimmer (or have a good boat) if you want to get off the Island. The area is mostly forested, with large rural residential houses embedded in high risk intermix area. There are several settlement areas of 50 to 100 houses where the properties are 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre or less. There is one large subdivision of 1200 lots that is mostly built out. The balance of the island is restricted to 10 acre lots many of which have multi-million dollar houses perched on the Islands bluffs and shoreline. We also have a significant portion of the island that has been designated National Park Reserve. Farming is pretty much limited to the original homesteads. Most have been subdivided into small hobby farms mostly between 50 and 150 acres. I hope this provides a reasonable picture of the area. If not, type Pender Island BC Canada into google earth and you will likely get a better idea of the vegetation and density.
I have been reading the comments and certainly the challenges faced in rural firefighting are similar across North America. Lack of water supplies, recruiting and retention of volunteers, a new generation of families where both spouses work, share child care responsibilities, and the pressures and modern demands of a society where everyone is seen as accessible at the touch of a button. We have a new generation of youth torn this way and that by a myriad of communication streams all competing for their interests. So I would say all of us folks that do not have a population base that can support a full time career fire service are pretty much in the same boat. Pardon that island pun.
One of the biggest challenges I see in tackling the rural fire issues will be in defining what exactly constitutes a rural area or classifying the rural areas so common strategies can be formed. If you look at the North American (NA) problems from 30,000 feet you will see there are some geographic similarities that run north and south and also east and west. The issues and strategies developed to address challenges in fire prevention and suppression on the west coast of Canada and the US will be very different when addressing the challenges in the plains of the US and Prairie Provinces of Canada. Separating areas into geographic regions based on topography and weather zones may be some help. While there are many factors that will define effective strategies such as social and economic factors it might be good to look at geography as a starting point. How do you all feel about that?