Firefighters overflowing with community support

Four Keremeos firefighters helped out Willowbrook in their time of need

Members of the Keremeos fire department didn’t hesitate to jump into action when a call for help came in from a group of neighbouring volunteer firefighters trying to save homes in their community from flooding.

Josh Wollman, a relatively new firefighter with Keremeos, said he didn’t think twice about going when the call came in about 8 p.m. Sunday night that help was needed sandbagging in Willowbrook. He along with Lieutenant Matthew Campbell, and students Parmeet Brar and Daxon Helm were prepared to sandbag till morning if they needed to.

“We’ve trained with them. We brought them to Keremeos to do some training. We knew they needed help, so we wanted to do what we could. They’d already been out there for three days sandbagging homes because the water level in the dam was so high,” he said.

It’s been reported water in the Kearns Creek dam has risen to unsafe levels that might impact the integrity of the dam if water is not released.

According to the Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen the owner of the Kearns Creek dam under order from BC Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is pumping water to reduce the volume in the dam, which reached capacity late Sunday.

The Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department was able to send 6,000 empty sandbags and four firefighters to help sandbag and place bags around homes. Members of the Oliver department also attended and more than 50 residents in and around the Willowbrook area.

“There was lots of people helping at the sandbag stations and then there was multiple areas with people up and down the streets sandbagging around houses. Argo people from Okanagan Falls and Oliver were there. There were people that didn’t even live anywhere near there but close to Oliver that came because they said it’s their community and they wanted to help. Everyone was in good spirits,” he said.

Wollman said he’d heard from a number residents that they’d just gotten work completed on their basements, which were destroyed during last year’s flooding events.

The guys stayed till about midnight before sandbagging was stopped for the night. Wollman said he’d go back and help anytime if it’s needed and he was sure others would too.

“It’s not even the melt season that is the scary part. I want to think people would come out here and help us if we had a natural disaster, and that might just happen. You look at how Olalla lake is creeping up now. It’s going to get worse. I want to think that if the river went over its banks other people would help us so we have to help others,” he said.

Wollman who’s been a volunteer firefighter for about the last 18 months said it’s events like that one that make him the most proudest.

“It’s the lift assists with the EMTs, helping them get someone down several flights of stairs or this kind of call with community flooding that makes me the most proud. People expect to see us at car accidents and fires, but then we show up to these kinds of things and can really make a difference.”

Jordy Bosscha, chief of the Keremeos fire department said he’s proud members helped other communities.

“We’ll gladly help our neighbours providing we have a trained crew left here in town or were able to get coverage from another community to offset our shortage,” he said.

This weekend’s events are a far cry from the weekend before when members were in a full weekend of training in Keremeos and then called out to several minor calls.

Bosscha said in recent months the department has welcomed five new firefighters that just recently completed new recruit training and received pagers. There are three new recruits waiting to go through training.

“I have three lockers left so we’re always looking for more members,” he said.

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