Fire departments from across Vancouver Island paid their respects to a fallen firefighter during a long procession today (Wednesday, July 29).
Lt. Ron Suits of the Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department (SLVFD) died on July 16 after going into cardiac arrest while responding to a barn fire on the rural McCoy Lake Road in the Alberni Valley.
On Wednesday, his remains came home as members of the SLVFD travelled to Courtenay to pick up Suits’ ashes and bring them back to Port Alberni. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the fire department wasn’t able to hold a full line of duty death service. Instead, firefighters from different departments lined the roads from Comox to Port Alberni to pay their respects as the procession passed by. Suits’ wife, Leanne, and daughter, Rebecca, were both on board SLVFD’s Engine 49.
Suits joined the Sproat Lake department four and a half years ago, after 27 years with the Calgary fire department.
“Ron was a great man,” said SLVFD Chief Mike Cann. “He was caring. Someone that does 27 years as a career and then comes back and volunteers—you don’t know too many people that do that.”
The night Suits died was hard on the department, said Cann. Firefighters continued working to extinguish the barn fire, even after they knew what had happened.
“That stays with those guys forever,” said Cann. “On a construction job, if there’s a fatality, they shut the site down, they send everybody home. They do an investigation, they’ll have a safety meeting, and then they’ll resume work. On a fire, you can’t shut down.
“You’ve got to keep going.”
Bill Bingham, a firefighter and a chaplain for SLVFD, was on Engine 49 on Wednesday to bring Suits’ ashes home. Bingham was also on the scene working a hose line on the night that Suits passed away.
“I was summoned by command to come to the command post,” he said. “I had gotten word from my captain that something had gone down and it wasn’t good.”
As a chaplain, Bingham was involved in a Critical Incident Stress debriefing session the morning after the fire and has been offering support to his fellow firefighters.
“I’ve been trying to support the members as best I can,” he said.
“Ron was a good friend,” Bingham added. “He had a fascinating story. I’m so glad that I had a chance to sit down with him and talk about his life.”