‘Take a moment, reflect,’ says Island fire chief on Firefighters’ National Memorial Day

'Take a moment, reflect,' says Island fire chief on Firefighters' National Memorial Day

Fire departments on Vancouver Island, along with hundreds of others across Canada, gathered to observe Firefighters’ National Memorial Day.

This annual day of reflection, held on the second Sunday in September, coincides with one of the most severe wildfire seasons in the country’s history.

Island firefighters, including those from Langford, were in Ottawa on Sept. 10 to attend the Canadian Firefighter Memorial Ceremony, where late Langford assistant fire chief Lance Caven and late Colwood fire chief John Cassidy were honoured.

The ceremony was held at LeBreton Flats.

“I was very pleased to be able to come here with the Caven family and the Cassidy family to honour their relatives, their loved ones because they were our loved ones too,” said Chris Aubrey, Langford’s fire chief, from Ottawa.

Caven, at 50 years old, passed away from cancer earlier this year after serving with the fire department for 30 years. Cassidy, meanwhile, was 54 years old when he died in 2021 following more than 20 years of firefighting service.

“You know, it’s … mixed emotions because obviously, immense pride in the sacrifice that your member made, but also sorrow that they’re not here anymore,” Aubrey told CHEK News.

At fire departments around Greater Victoria, flags are flown at half-mast, as the ceremony in Ottawa also honours firefighters who died in the line of duty.

“This year marks the 20th annual national ceremony hosted by the CFFF (Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation),” David Sheen, president of the CFFF, told the crowd.

“Twenty years of coming together as a fire services family to honour and remember our brothers and sisters…”

“We will not forget them.”

More than 80 firefighters were honoured this year, including those who died battling wildfires in Canada since July. Two of them, Devyn Gale and Zak Muise, were from B.C. 

Premier David Eby in a statement Sunday says they “made the ultimate sacrifice protecting people and communities from wildfires.”

This year, more than 15 million hectares have gone up in smoke across the country, and more than 200,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

“Words are not strong enough to capture our debt to these heroes or the loss to their families and communities. We will not forget them,” added Eby.

“And you know, seeing that name on the wall, it’s hard to explain,” said Aubrey, “to some, they’ll look at a name on the wall and just see a name on the wall, but (we) remember the person, we remember how great they were, how committed and how dedicated they were to firefighting and helping others.”

READ ALSO: B.C.’s wildfire crisis was forecast, but it arrived decades sooner than expected

Sherry Romanado, MP for Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony and said the federal government is “continuing to support Canadians now while strengthening Canada’s preparedness for years to come.”

She said the government finalized agreements with B.C. and Northwest Territories, which will receive $32 million and $28 million, respectively, over the next five years to fight wildfires.

Sunday’s commemorations come on the eve of the anniversary of 9-11, when 344 firefighters answered the call but did not return home, including some from Canada.

“Just don’t forget — take a moment, reflect … many of us remember September 11th very vividly and remember those who gave their life that day and who have given their lives every day since,” added Aubrey.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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