When someone needs urgent medical help, having someone close by who can offer reassurance and support until an ambulance arrives is essential.
For Margo Wagner, the opportunity to provide that initial support to residents in need has been one of the most important aspects of her role as a first responder with the Forest Grove Volunteer Fire Department.
Wagner, who is also chair of the Cariboo Regional District and area director of Forest Grove/Canim Lake, recently retired from the VFD after 16 years. She was honoured with a plaque at last week’s CRD board meeting.
Following the presentation, Wagner said juggling her role as CRD chair and fielding late-night and early morning emergency calls had become a bit too much over the past year or so.
“It was a good decision on my part,” Wagner said. “I was finding that a lot of our calls come in late at night or early in the morning, and if I had CRD commitments, like all-day meetings, it was harder for me to decide if I’m going to go on the call and be tired the next day, or if I’m not going to go.”
Wagner first became involved with the Canim Lake fire department when it was a separate entity from the Forest Grove hall, not long after her family moved to the South Cariboo in 2004.
Before the Canim Lake department amalgamated with Forest Grove in 2008, Wagner had completed her first responder training. As a retired nurse, Wagner said she was “not very fazed” by some of the shocking things a first responder deals with, and saw her role as one of offering emotional support to those who needed it.
“When someone is in medical distress, even though the scope of practice for a first responder is limited, the fact that you’re there and able to calm them down and calm the relatives down is probably one of the biggest things,” she said. “I think the community realizes what an important asset the first responders are, as we are anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes before an ambulance gets out here.”
Even when the fire department is not helping people on emergency calls, Wagner said it often makes a big impact in the community in other ways.
Although the volunteer department was not on the front lines of the many blazes in the South Cariboo during the wildfires in 2017, it was front and centre in Forest Grove, coordinating a local headquarters for residents to get food and other supplies. The community hall was set up as a makeshift food bank, and truckloads of supplies were delivered to remote areas not easily accessible due to the road closures. Aside from the stress of that summer, Wagner says it was a nice reminder of the generosity and helpful nature of the area.
“For a devastating event to hit a small community, it really showed the level of community spirit we have,” she said.
Though Wagner is confident that the timing is right for her to step away from the fire department, she said she will miss helping out the community in times of need and developing relationships with people she might not otherwise meet.
“I will miss it but I have to say, since I made the decision, I’m honestly not missing the calls,” she said. “It was the right decision.
The fire department is always looking for new volunteers – especially in Canim Lake, Wagner notes, where there are fewer young residents who live there full time.
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