April 15 to 21, 2018, is National Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate the too-often unsung labour of ordinary citizens accomplishing extraordinary feats.
Volunteers come from all walks of life: they are First Nations, immigrants, people young, old and everyone in between. They create a quiet workforce, motivated neither by money nor by ambition, but by the honest desire to give back and help people.
For British Columbians, 2017 will be remembered as the year of flood and fire. The sheer magnitude of the two disasters, with flooding in more than 40 communities in B.C.’s Interior, followed by wildfires that scorched a region twice the size of Prince Edward Island, stretched governments, non-governmental agencies and first responders to the very limit. Wildfires drove more than 65,000 British Columbians from their homes, their businesses and their communities.
And who stepped in to help? Volunteers. Thousands of them. On a daily basis, Emergency Management BC worked with as many as 100 volunteer fire departments. These men and woman traveled from every region of the province to safeguard buildings, and to provide water to sprinkler protection crews. They extinguished ‘spot’ blazes around buildings, and assisted with maintaining the fire guard in addition to many, many other tasks. At any given time, as many as 600 volunteer firefighters worked 12-hour shifts, both day and night.
In addition to fighting fires, volunteers directed traffic, handed out meals and found housing for families who had nowhere to go. Emergency social services volunteers worked with local governments, to provide shelter and distribute food to people in need. Other volunteers simply showed up, ready to do anything. They guarded property from looters, and took in pets and livestock. They gave people a shoulder to cry on.
Beyond the events of 2017, volunteers routinely risk their lives on the snowy sides of B.C.’s mountain ranges to save skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers. They search for lost hikers and hunters. Volunteers help clean up spills and rescue those at sea. They support the elderly, people with disabilities and people living in poverty. And, on the frontlines of B.C.’s overdose crisis, volunteers work every day to save lives.
By giving to others, volunteers also give to themselves. I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers in British Columbia for their selfless sacrifices. Your efforts reflect the very best of what it is to be human. You make the lives of all British Columbians better, strengthen communities and make the world a more just and kinder place.