On my current visit to my home town, I was saddened to hear about the demise of the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Fire Department. I have been no stranger to the ongoing battle to keep the hall going as my father is long-time chief and founding member Ed Forslund.
Let me start by saying that I am well aware of changing needs in this growing community and the perceived need for something better in the way of fire protection in the Landing. Although there have been no incidents to warrant any kind of grievance, I do understand.
In 1972 Okanagan Landing was also growing and in need of fire protection. This is because the Vernon Fire Department refused to come to the Landing.
There were meetings, and some men stood up and decided that they would form a volunteer fire brigade to protect their own community. A non-profit status was given, and the land for the hall was purchased by the North Okanagan Regional District. The men themselves dug the hole and built the hall. Every weekend, they would donate their time and energy to see that Okanagan Landing had its own fire hall. A hall that, as of January 2013, will be known as “Vernon Hall #2.”
Of course the OKLFD has been a part of my life from day one. It has been for anyone whose family is or was a part of it. It has been for anyone who has lived or gone to school in the Landing. The fire department became a cornerstone of our community. Beyond protecting our homes and property from fire, there was anything from organizing much of the annual Regatta, to putting together college scholarships for graduating students from Okanagan Landing. Community service at its finest.
Many of us kids who grew up in the fire hall (current Chief Fuhr included) have had many of our most important moments of our lives within those walls that our fathers built. Birthdays, wedding receptions, graduations, wakes to learning how to change the oil in a car. The fire hall wasn’t just a building. It was a part of day to day life. Moments I’ll always cherish.
On hearing this news upon my return to Vernon this week, I had to think about it a lot. Like I said, I realize that change is imminent. There will always be those in a position of power with a need to fix those things that aren’t broken for “the greater good.” I am most enraged at the way it was done. For the administrative types to meet with council “in-camera” and not give the OKLFD any notice, let alone a chance for rebuttal was a slap in the face to an organization who has put it on the line time after time. The history involved demands more respect than that.
I also want to be very clear that this is not anything against the firefighters of the Vernon Fire Department. I know several of them personally and I know they are among the best at their job. This isn’t about that. It is about the level of disrespect handed to the OKLFD. That responsibility lies at the feed of the administrative people of the Vernon Fire Department and City Council itself.
I’ll say goodbye to the Okanagan Landing Fire Department with heaviness in my heart. These people did so much for their community as asked for very little in return. They deserve better than this. They deserve better than an article proclaiming Vernon Fire Department will now be “…providing skilled, well–trained firefighters to deliver the best emergency response to all residents.” The members of OKLFD are just as skilled and well trained as those in Vernon, BX/Silver Star, Coldstream/Lavington, Enderby, Armstrong/Spallumcheen.
I wish all the best to all the members of the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Fire Department past and present. There are many of us out here that realize everything you’ve done for us over the years.