On the first anniversary of becoming Salt Spring Island Fire-Rescue’s eighth Fire Chief, Arjuna George graciously agreed to share some of his story with me. Our Island-raised Chief envisioned a future in customer service in the restaurant industry, hoping to someday become a chef with his own restaurant.
When he became a volunteer firefighter in 1997, he caught the firefighting bug. Although working full-time at Thrifty’s, welcoming his newborn daughter, and helping care for his one-year old son, he spent every spare moment learning everything about firefighting. Never intending to make firefighting a career, he simply wanted to learn and practice all he could to prepare for the emergency situations that awaited him.
Dreams of becoming a chef were put aside four years later when he became a full-time firefighter. From there, he progressed quickly through the ranks to Captain and Assistant Chief until 2009 when he entered management as Deputy Chief.
He sees his strength as his ability to work well with people by listening, leading, and respecting differences. As a lifelong learner, he also remains current in the fields of fire, technology, and business. Not surprisingly, he admits to taking on too much and recognizes that he could take better care of himself. He also wishes to build further relationships within the community and extend the department’s outreach, convinced that a FireSmart community is a safer community.
Looking back on last year, he sees his greatest accomplishment as stabilizing our firefighting team. He took over in challenging times - not long after the crushing defeat of the Firehall referendum, rising concerns over wages and the department budget, and the departure of Chief Bremner. By creating a stable environment in which all are valued, the team has strengthened, as witnessed by high retention rates as well as a banner recruitment year for Paid-on-Call Volunteers. Despite these successes, he is disappointed that he did not accomplish more.
His goals? Among his top priorities are developing more efficient systems for staffing and finances, ensuring equipment is current and functioning, building even stronger relationships and further preparing our island for the ever changing threats of wildfire and other emergencies.
And, of course, there is that pervasive need for a new firehall. . . .