Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association Leaves Lasting Impact on Community
Although the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association has disbanded, their generosity and service to the community will have a lasting presence in the North Okanagan.
The story of the Association began decades ago in the 1970s, when the Okanagan Landing area was without fire protection services.
“Okanagan Landing was part of the Regional District,” explains founding member Ed Forslund. “With no fire protection in the area, a group of six men who had trained with the Vernon Volunteer Fire Department realized the need for fire protection.”
Answering a newspaper ad for volunteer firefighters, Forslund attended a meeting that would be the start of a 40-year involvement with the Association, including 10 years serving as chief.
In 1974, with funding from the Regional District, a 25-man brigade volunteered their time to build the hall on Okanagan Landing Road.
“We always did as much as we could with volunteer help,” says Forslund. “We took on janitorial tasks as well as maintenance of the grounds and building. Our goal was always to provide the best possible service for the least amount of cost to the community.”
In addition to offering fire protection services, the Association supported community events. Forslund notes that there were two parts to the department which worked hand in hand to create not just community safety, but community cohesion.
“We had the brigade consisting of the Chief, Deputy Chief, Captains, Lieutenants and Firefighters and we also had the Association side with a President, Vice President, Secretary and Directors to take care of the social events.”
Throughout the years, the group was involved in the community helping out with the OK Landing Elementary School annual Kids Fun Day, presenting the Hallowe’en fireworks display and running the pancake breakfast at the Paddlewheel Park Regatta. The Association also provided scholarships and funded causes to fight cancer and kidney disease.
“It was a great way to connect with the community, keep morale positive, and get to know our neighbours. We were a big part of the community and in some ways, the cornerstone,” says Forslund.
In the early ‘90s when the City of Vernon and OK Landing amalgamated, the Association formed a non-profit society, providing contracted services to the City. Okanagan Landing resident and Okanagan Landing & District Community Association board member, Murray Hainer, notes the OK Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association was one of the most successful volunteer fire fighting associations in the province.
“Theirs was one of the most active departments in BC, with 150 members over the years. Community volunteer members displayed a wide variety of personal skills and expertise, and served professionally with an average tenure of ten years. They never had a problem recruiting.”
When their contract wasn’t renewed in 2012, members took on the task of dissolving the Association, transferring funds to non-profits throughout Vernon.
“As a non-profit society, the department never took practice pay. Everyone donated it back to the hall,” says long-serving member Len Ganz. “We looked at a number of worthwhile charities and narrowed it down, eventually choosing five based on the impact it would have for the community.”
The association has generously donated $45,000 to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation in support of patients at the McMurtry-Baerg Cancer Centre and the Tower of Care campaign, Phase II.
Twenty thousand dollars has been allocated to the purchase of eight therapy chairs at the McMurtry-Baerg Cancer Centre. Chemotherapy treatments can take up to eight hours per session for some patients. The chairs not only provide patient comfort, but ease of access for medical staff administering treatments.
The remaining $25,000 will help equip and furnish a room on one of the top floors of Polson Tower, improving healthcare for generations of North Okanagan residents, with state-of-the-art care, enhanced infection control, and increased patient capacity, comfort and safety.
While disappointed with the demise of the Okanagan Landing Volunteer Firefighters Association, Forslund says he is proud of the organization he served with for nearly four decades and that they are able to help so many groups. A total of $187,000 was given back to community to support many worthwhile causes benefitting residents of the North Okanagan.