Lieutenant Ron Suits was a firefighter with Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department for four and a half years until he died while working a fire on July 16, 2020. (PHOTO COURTESY SPROAT LAKE VFD)

Lieutenant Ron Suits was a firefighter with Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department for four and a half years until he died while working a fire on July 16, 2020. (PHOTO COURTESY SPROAT LAKE VFD)

Vancouver Island firefighters mourn one of their own

Volunteer firefighter Lt. Ron Suits remembered as one who loved to help others

Firefighter Ron Suits knew something was wrong when he arrived at the scene of a barn fire west of Port Alberni and pulled his fire tender full of water to the site.

A lieutenant with the Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, and career firefighter for nearly four decades, Suits, 69, was pulling up to nurse water to a fire engine on the side of the rural McCoy Lake Road, because the area is not served by fire hydrants.

“Ron got out of the truck and came around the back of the truck and told me there was a problem, he wasn’t feeling good,” Sproat Lake VFD Chief Mike Cann recalled. “He then sat on the tailboard of the truck and I grabbed a couple of first responder members that were close by.”

READ: Firefighter dies at scene of barn fire west of Port Alberni

Four fire departments—Sproat Lake, Port Alberni, Cherry Creek and Beaver Creek—had all responded to the structure fire, where a barn full of hay was burning hot and fast. Smoke could be seen kilometres away, and it drew curious members of the public, snarling traffic on the winding road. The first responders, from Beaver Creek VFD, moved Suits to a seated position on the side of the road. Cann also called for an ambulance attendant to come up to where the tender was—the ambulance was having trouble getting through the traffic.

“He went into cardiac arrest,” said Cann, who was beside Suits. The first responders and paramedics performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for 30 minutes before rushing Suits to West Coast General Hospital. Unfortunately, he did not survive.

Although Cann is chief, for this fire he was third to arrive on scene, so he chose to supervise the water supply; Chris Wynans was incident commander. Cann said later he wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else but with Suits.

“As soon as he started having difficulties we had trained people on him—within a minute,” he recalled.

Suits’ wife Leanne is grateful.

“Circumstances being what they are, he was surrounded by people who knew what to do and they did it,” she said. “If he had any chance of surviving this, it was there. He had the best chance he could possibly have had. There’s a lot of consolation in that, because there’s no second-guessing.”

Suits spent 27 years with the Calgary fire department. He took early retirement so he and his wife Leanne, a nurse, could move to Vancouver Island. Their two children—Tyler, now 21 and a paramedic in Port McNeill, and Rebecca, now 19 and a university student—were toddlers, and Leanne’s job was portable.

“We decided…to slow things down and get out of the rat race,” Leanne said. “It was a good decision.”

Ron spent three years on the board of directors at the Dashwood Volunteer Fire Department in Qualicum Beach (2005–08). The family eventually moved to Port Alberni, to their property in Sproat Lake. “Our son was going to join the junior firefighter program,” Leanne said. “Ron brought Ty to his first practice. The guys were like ‘Oh!’ and they roped him in.”

Willingly, she added.

Ron served with SLVFD for four and a half years. A modest person, he quietly mentored younger firefighters, and he offered his opinion but never pushed it on anyone, Cann said.

Every Tuesday after practice, Suits would come into Cann’s office and sit down for a chat. Sometimes they didn’t even chat, but sat in companionable silence.

“He was always willing to do extra work in the department. I spent a lot of time talking to him about his time at the Calgary department.” Suits was a regular on the Saturday duty crews, who put in an extra four-hour training shift.

“You don’t know many people who retire from a career and then go back and do it for nothing,” Cann said. “It speaks volumes for his caring and willingness to help people.

“He certainly will be missed.”

“Ron didn’t have to be there, he chose to be there,” Leanne said. “He liked helping. That was who he was. He loved his career; he really enjoyed being able to be part of (the SLVFD). The guys on Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department are amazing.”

This is the second line of duty death that the Sproat Lake VFD has experienced in 18 months. Firefighter Carla Kulczycki died on Jan. 2, 2019 from work-related cancer.

Cann said it has hit his department hard. He doesn’t know of another line of duty death among firefighters at Sproat Lake, and now he has had two on his watch.

Cann said he was proud of all the Sproat Lake firefighters who kept on working to extinguish the barn fire, even after they knew what had happened to their colleague. “Fire doesn’t stop. It keeps going. I was pretty proud of our crew that they kept going.”

Cann had two Critical Incident Stress debriefing sessions with his firefighters: “The night of the fire…we brought all the crews in and left some crew from Beaver Creek to work with the excavator (at the barn site),” he said. “We were very fortunate Karen Fry, Nanaimo’s fire chief, drove all the way up.”

The second session was on Saturday with a representative from WorkSafe BC. Counselling has also been offered to members through WorkSafe BC as well as Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the fire department won’t be having a public line of duty death service like they did for Kulczycki. Firefighters from around Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland came to Port Alberni for a procession up Roger Street to the Alberni Athletic Hall, where the hall was filled to overflowing.

The family has a beautiful riverfront property, where Ron spent a lot of time working outdoors, and they will have a private ceremony there, Leanne Suits said.

The fire department will take part in the service.



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictfirePort Alberni

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

 

Members of Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, including Lt. Ron Suits, left, practice a rope rescue during Tuesday night training earlier in July. (PHOTO COURTESY SLVFD)

Members of Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, including Lt. Ron Suits, left, practice a rope rescue during Tuesday night training earlier in July. (PHOTO COURTESY SLVFD)

Just Posted

The new council for Hupacasath First Nation. From left to right: Councillor Ricky-Lee Watts, Chief Councillor Brandy Lauder, Councillor Jolleen Dick and Councillor Warren Lauder. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Hupacasath First Nation chooses new chief councillor, council

First change of leadership in a decade for Vancouver Island nation

A trailer with fire damage is taped off by the Port Alberni Fire Department at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Fire knocked down at Wintergreen Apartments trailer

City is concerned about zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Lukas Jirousek pokes the puck away from Grizzlies forward Henri Schreifels during a game at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Career night for Castagna can’t lift Alberni Valley Bulldogs past Victoria

Back-and-forth affair between Bulldogs and Grizzlies ends 7-5 for visiting team

Logging Camp Nine on Great Central Lake overlooks a large forest fire across the lake in this historical photo from May 1943. Camp Nine was bustling, with residences for logging camp staff, a rail line and rail cars visible. This is one of 24,000 photos contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN12220 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Great Central Lake’s sawmill

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Vally Museum

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. urges people to stay in their neighbourhoods, discourages out-of-household meet-ups

Dr. Bonnie Henry says there should be no travel, even to the next city over

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read