Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been with View Royal for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer when he was 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hurst)

Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been with View Royal for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer when he was 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hurst)

View Royal chief revisits 35 years of heading into the fire

Paul Hurst has no plans to stop now

Rick Stiebel

News Staff

Paul Hurst didn’t have to wait for his baptism by fire.

Just hours after signing on as a volunteer on his 16th birthday, Hurst found himself inside a building engulfed in flames.

“It was at the old Cambridge Motel,” recalled Hurst in an interview with the Gazette reflecting on his 35 years with View Royal Fire Rescue. “I was inside a burning building at 2 o’clock in the morning the day after I filled in the paperwork.

Things have changed a lot since 1984. You can’t put a volunteer on a truck now without 18 months of training.”

“Mom tells me I wanted to be a firefighter from the time I was five or six,” said Hurst, who followed the path of his father, George, a long-time volunteer with the View Royal fire department.

“I started going to the hall with my dad when I was 12, washing trucks and emptying garbage cans.”

Hurst explored a number of career paths before he became a full-time firefighter in 1988. He juggled part-time work with BC Ambulance Service in Sooke and served five years as an Auxiliary Constable with the West Shore RCMP while volunteering with the View Royal fire department.

RELATED: View Royal salutes Fire Chief Paul Hurst’s service

“There’s a lot of things you can do in your early 20s that I can’t imagine doing now,” said Hurst, View Royal’s fire chief since 2005.

That may include telling former fire chief Frank Bell that he wanted his job when Bell once asked him “What the hell are you going to do with the rest of your life?” he admitted with a chuckle.

Fire Chief Paul Hurst has been with View Royal for 35 years, beginning as a volunteer when he was 16. (Photo courtesy of Paul Hurst)

Hurst came close to a career in the military after he enlisted as a firefighter when he was 18.

“I got hired by View Royal just before I was deployed to Borden. I chose View Royal over the air force and never looked back.”

His daughter, Meagan, is enrolled in officer training at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. “It’s pretty cool and I’m very proud of her,” he said. “She’s the fourth generation of Hursts in the military.”

Hurst has no plans to retire at this time, but indicated it will probably coincide with whenever his wife, Laurie, decides to retire from her position as Chief Administrative Officer with the Township of Esquimalt.

“I’m not going anywhere soon,” he stressed. I still love this job and I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s incredibly rewarding on so many levels, lots of highs, lots of lows and in betweens. This job has taught me empathy and compassion and it’s made me cynical as well. It’s never boring because you never know what’s next.”

RELATED: Nine-year-old from fire released from B.C. Children’s hospital

Although he received an award for bravery while he was off duty in 2013 for saving the life of a little girl trapped in a house fire, Hurst has a different interpretation than most people of what constitutes a hero.

“The plumber who shows up at 3 a.m. to fix a broken pipe in my house is a hero. The people who plow the snow away so I can get to work are heroes as well. It’s all a matter of perspective.

“At the end of the day firefighting is a blue collar job. We’re not curing cancer, we’re just trying to help people out like everyone else,” said Hurst. “The difference is we drive expensive trucks and wear uniforms.”

A surprise visit from a young woman holds a special place in Hurst’s heart, despite the tragic circumstances that surrounded their first meeting.

She was only six when the department came to her aid after the rest of her family died in a truly horrific set of circumstances.

“She showed up in my office 20 years later to say everything in her life was awesome,” Hurst shared.

“Things like that stick with you forever.”

The other side of that equation is that Hurst can tell you every intersection or street in View Royal where someone has died in a crash.

“It’s an incredible responsibility to be with someone in their last moments.”

READ ALSO: Years of ‘horrific, violent accidents’ at Thetis Lake prompt plea to public

One of the biggest positive changes he’s observed since he began his career is how the perception of the challenges of the work has changed over the years.

“We have a better understanding of the stresses of the job, whether it’s PTSD or cancer,” he explained.

“Back in the day you were just told to suck it up. We now recognize the accumulative effects the job has on some individuals physically and mentally.”

“The job is not for everyone,” he continued. “It kicks the crap out of you physically. I’ve lost so many friends to all kinds of cancer since I started. You get paid great money, but you have to learn to enjoy every day.”

One element that remains constant is Hurst’s appreciation for the department’s volunteer firefighters.

The View Royal department has relied on 278 volunteers since 1948, and he was the 116th to sign up.

“It’s a real juggling act for volunteers, balancing their home life and family and job with the expectations of a fire chief. We don’t have a fire hall without those volunteers,” said Hurst.

“I’m really happy and excited when a volunteer leaves for a full-time position in Victoria or Vancouver, but at the same time you’re losing great people.

“You trust your life with these people, our lives are in each other’s hands. The connections and friendships you make are something you cherish for a lifetime.”

RELATED: West Shore fire departments seek new recruits

rick.stiebel@goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

View Royal chief revisits 35 years of heading into the fire

View Royal fire crews battle a structure fire in the District of Highlands. Fire chief Paul Hurst says being a firefighter is both extremely challenging and rewarding. (Photo Courtesy of Paul Hurst)

View Royal fire crews battle a structure fire in the District of Highlands. Fire chief Paul Hurst says being a firefighter is both extremely challenging and rewarding. (Photo Courtesy of Paul Hurst)

Just Posted

This rendering shows the proposed warehouse for lands under the authority of the Victoria Airport Authority near a Sidney residential neighbourhood. (York Reality/Submitted).
Chamber of Commerce promises Sidney warehouse proposal will deliver jobs

Nearby resident said project’s benefits will be short-lived

Habitat Acquisition Trust has received provincial funding to help restore Garry oak ecosystems on southern Vancouver Island. (Photo by Jeremy da Silva)
Central Saanich park among sites for local Garry oak restoration projects

Habitat Acquisition Trust received $140,000 in funding for 12 projects

Sue Hodgson returns as publisher of the Peninsula News Review starting June 1. (Courtesy Sue Hodgson)
Peninsula News Review welcomes back Sue Hodgson as publisher

Dale Naftel takes helm of Oak Bay News as publisher

A family of ducks that lives near Saanich Municipal Hall recently welcomed 11 ducklings and took them for a swim in the koi pond outside the offices. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Pair of ducks make Saanich Municipal Hall a nursery for 11 hatchlings

Family of ducks spent time in koi pond before heading down to Swan Lake

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

B.C. announced the launch of an app May 7 that connects youth struggling with mental health and substance use with “life-saving” social services. (Screen grab)
5 years in the making: Mental health app for youth and children launches in B.C.

The province provided $1.6-million to fund a virtual care platform

Amazon has announced the creation of five new facilities in B.C., to employ about 2,000 people. (Amazon/Special to Black Press Media)
Amazon adds new facilities in Langley, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Vancouver

The Vancouver port centre will be the first Amazon centre to feature robotics in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Most Read