Firefighters in the Greater Victoria Area faced off in a friendly hockey game honouring two members who passed while raising awareness around mental health and cancer.
Dozens of spectators attended the first annual Forrest Owens and Ken Gill Memorial Hockey Game in Esquimalt, raising awareness of the mental health and cancer risks that fire service members face.
“If you never met them and they sat down beside you, it’d be like sitting next to a campfire on a rainy night,” said Esquimalt Fire Chief Steve Serbic.
Ken Gill, a well-respected firefighter of 35 years and a known mental health advocate, worked in the Department of National Defence and the Langford, Sidney, and Oak Bay Fire Departments. He took his own life in 2018.
Forrest Owens, a firefighter for the Central Saanich community of 35 years, tackled multiple roles and served on numerous committees. In 2022, he lost his battle with cancer, prompting the department to retire his number, 14, and start a scholarship in his name.
READ MORE:‘A true legend’: School scholarship honours former Central Saanich fire captain who died from cancer
The scholarship eventually grew into the Forrest Owens and Ken Gill Memorial Scholarship. Two Esquimalt High School students were awarded $1,000 for their community efforts at the game.
Before the puck dropped, area firefighters and spectators held a moment of silence for service members who lost their lives in the line of duty, including the two Edmonton police officers killed and Langford Assistant Fire Chief Lance Caven, who last week lost his battle with cancer.
Serving as a firefighter exposes many to harmful carcinogens and the stress of the job often takes an enormous mental toll after their shift is over. The International Association of Firefighters says occupational cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty death in the fire service.
Experts say events like these not only help firefighters become more aware of the risks of the job but also enable the public to help them.
“The mental health issues and issues in firefighting like suicide and cancer, are all related as one, and that one thing is stress. We ought to be prepared to help the people that we expect to help us,” said Dr. Kenneth Kunz, Medical Oncologist.
“It also gets us to think about our own longevity. How can we better educate ourselves on mental illness and occupational cancer? That’s what this hockey game brings. It brings awareness, and we all take a good look at our professions and how we can be better,” said Serbic.
The BC Cancer Foundation and Canadian Mental Health Association representatives were also present at the game.
Over 30 spectators attended the event. Serbic is hopeful next year’s event will be even more significant.