Brian Starkell, president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, leads the applause for Thetis Island Fire Chief Jeannine Caldbeck after presenting her with roses for her Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by Veronica Shelford)

Brian Starkell, president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, leads the applause for Thetis Island Fire Chief Jeannine Caldbeck after presenting her with roses for her Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by Veronica Shelford)

Fire chief first woman in Canada to receive Lifetime Achievement Award

Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association cites significant commitment of Thetis Island’s Caldbeck

Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Jeannine Caldbeck is the first-ever female recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association.

The award was presented Saturday to Caldbeck, who’s been the Thetis Island fire chief since 2005, by CVFSA president Brian Starkell at the newly-refurbished and expanded Forbes Hall on Thetis.

“It was a humbling honour,” said Caldbeck. “As I said at the speeches, people came up and said how they had interacted with me over the years.

“You can’t achieve anything in the fire service without the support of a great many people – firefighters, the fire service in general and the community. It takes the whole community to buy into making everybody safe. It’s everybody who supports the fire department by being safe themselves.”

It was a fitting time for the presentation leading into Fire Prevention Week Oct. 3-9.

It’s also the first time the award ceremony has been held in the community of the recipient rather than at a large gathering in a major city. To have family, friends and community supporters in attendance was extra special for Caldbeck.

The COVID protocol capacity for guests was reached, with firefighters from other communities also in attendance and many sending their regrets for being unable to attend but expressing well-wishes to Caldbeck by email.

Caldbeck received a beautiful glass vase and roses.

She exhibited her trademark sense of humour previously when first notified of the award and that a film crew would be coming to Thetis in September.

“At first when they phoned, it was a total surprise to me,” Caldbeck said. “I said ‘I’m not dead yet.’”

She joked during the speeches it felt like a memorial service tribute.

But one of the best parts of being there, Caldbeck added, “I got to eat cake.”

Cake, sandwiches and refreshments were served following the program.

This is the 12th year the CVFSA has conducted a national search to honour Canada’s best volunteer firefighters. It goes to an individual for remarkable achievements in the fire service and community. To be considered, nominees must have been a volunteer firefighter or volunteer-on-call firefighter for at least 20 years.

The nomination process was open for a five-month period. A committee of six volunteers from different regions of Canada reviewed the nominations and selected the winner.

Caldbeck first joined the Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department in 1996. She became a First Responder instructor and certified as an instructor for Automated External Defibrillator and spinal management in 1998; was appointed fire captain in 2002; became the first woman in B.C. to complete Fire Officer 1 training at the Justice Institute of B.C. and was appointed deputy chief and training instructor of TIVFD in 2003; and elevated to the chief’s post in 2005 that she’s held ever since.

Under Caldbeck’s leadership, the department stayed operational in difficult circumstances during major renovations to the fire hall to meet WorkSafe BC standards. The project was completed in 2019.

“The TIVFD, under Jeannine’s leadership has become recognized as one of the most professional and best run departments on Vancouver Island,” stated the CVFSA in a news release. “Under her, the fleet of vehicles has been renewed and expanded to include a command vehicle with rapid response capability. Four of the vehicles were bought in the U.S.A., and Jeannine personally drove them to Thetis Island from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Texas.

“Chief Caldbeck established an auxiliary to support firefighters with rest and rehab, traffic control, communications and water tendering. Dry hydrants and firefighting water tanks have been established at strategic points around the island.”

Related story: Fire department role quite different on Thetis Island

Retired Cowichan Bay Fire Department member Dave Ferguson is a previous recipient of the award.

“It’s incredible to have two out of the Cowichan Valley out of 12 all across Canada,” said Caldbeck.

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Jeannine Caldbeck has served as fire chief of the Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department since 2005. (Photo by Dave Tarris)

Jeannine Caldbeck has served as fire chief of the Thetis Island Volunteer Fire Department since 2005. (Photo by Dave Tarris)