Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Lucas Banton pours water on a barn fire on McCoy Lake Road on July 16, 2020. Crews from four fire departments in the Alberni Valley worked through the night to extinguish the fire, which caught in a hay barn at Tooth Acres, owned by retired dentist Dr. Fritz Zens. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Vancouver Island firefighter dies at scene of barn blaze

The volunteer firefighter suffered a medical emergency after arriving to assist

A firefighter has died after responding to a barn fire on Thursday (July 16) west of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.

Lieutenant Ron Suits, with Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, was responding to a blaze on McCoy Lake Road when he experienced a medical emergency after arriving at the fire.

READ: Fire destroys barn at hobby farm west of Port Alberni

Emergency personnel could be seen performing CPR on someone lying on a stretcher on the side of the road while fellow firefighters were battling the barn blaze. An ambulance left the scene more than half an hour later with sirens and lights activated.

Suits succumbed to this medical emergency, Sproat Lake VFD Chief Mike Cann said.

“Last night we lost one of our own. Our department grieves alongside of our member’s family and we must now come together to support his family and our members,” Cann said in a prepared statement.

“We want to express our sincerest condolences to the member’s family and to all members and their families of the Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department,” the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District released in a statement. “We also want to thank all Alberni Valley first responders who supported our member in the line of duty.”

“His dedication was felt by members of the department and his absence will be greatly missed,” Cann said. Suits was a firefighter in Sproat Lake for four and a half years. He also served on the board of the Dashwood volunteer fire department in Qualicum Beach from 2005-08.

This is the second firefighter death from their team in as many years that Sproat Lake volunteer firefighters have had to endure. Carla Kulczycki died on Jan. 2, 2019 from work-related cancer.

READ: Sproat Lake first responder ‘was a firefighter right until her passing’

Kulczycki was with the department for 16 years; she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in August 2017. Firefighters from all over Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland attended a line of duty death service Jan. 13, 2019 in Kulczycki’s honour.

Two other Alberni Valley firefighters also died in January 2019: retired Port Alberni Fire Dept. firefighter Bruce Trenholm and retired Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Dept. deputy chief Brian Brick, also of a work-related illness. Brick’s family opted not to carry out a public line of duty service.

Previous to that, it had been 14 years since a line of duty service had occurred in Port Alberni—for PAFD member Robert Beaudoin, who also died of a work-related cancer.

READ: Cherry Creek firefighters mourn former deputy chief

Alberni Valley fire crews were at the scene throughout the night putting out hot spots and breaking up the hay to cool it down.

Sproat Lake VFD was called back to the fire briefly on Friday morning when the hay began to smoulder. “The homeowner has his field sprinklers going on it,” Chief Mike Cann said.



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

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