There’s a new deputy fire chief and emergency coordinator in town.
Agassiz firefighter Michael Van Laerhoven will be filling the role recently vacated by Gerald Basten, who became the fire chief after Wayne Dyer retired in December 2018. He’ll be responsible for emergency management and fire protection for the District of Kent, Seabird Island and Harrison Hot Springs.
“I think Mike’s going to do fantastic in the new role,” fire chief Gerald Basten said. “He’s young and energetic and always looking for a challenge.”
Van Laerhoven has been a firefighter with the department since 2010, and in 2012 was presented with the James G. Morrow Memorial Award for Rookie of the Year. He was also given an award for the most volunteer hours that same year.
In the summer of 2017, Van Laerhoven was among those who helped BC Wildfire battle flames along Harrison Lake and also volunteered to help fight the Elephant Hill wildfire near Sheridan Lake.
“I like making a difference in my community and that’s one of the reasons I joined the fire department,” Van Laerhoven said in 2017. “And I never wish for (wildfires) to happen but I’m happy that the training was provided to me and I can assist and make a difference.”
That kind of training will be important for Van Laerhoven, Basten said, as the emergency coordinator position becomes more and more relevant.
“Whether it’s climate change or not, it seems we are impacted by severe weather events more and more as time goes by,” Basten said. “Typically, 10 or 15, even 20 years ago, the emergency operations centre for the district and the village would have only been used for exercises and seldom … required for an emergency.
“Now, it seems that we’re standing up the emergency operations centre every year, whether it be for a freshet (or) potential flood waters. Last year we had the Mount Hicks wildfire. In 2017 we had the big landslide, rock slide on Rockwell Drive, and prior to that, the ice storms throughout the winter,” he continued.
“Emergency operations centre is being utilized more and more often as the hub and focal point for response to these environmental emergencies.”
Van Laerhoven has completed his emergency management certificate at the Justice Institute, and has already been working with the Kent Harrison Emergency Program over the past year during the freshet and Mount Hicks wildfire.