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Balding Hall salutes a firefighting pioneer

Pete Balding, centre, cuts the ribbon for the new Mill Bay Fire Hall dedicated in his name earlier this spring. - courtesy David Slade
Pete Balding, centre, cuts the ribbon for the new Mill Bay Fire Hall dedicated in his name earlier this spring.
— image credit: courtesy David Slade

Mill Bay’s new fire hall was dedicated recently to a man who joined Mill Bay’s  Fire Department in the late ‘50s.

“Pete Balding lived and breathed the Mill Bay fire department,” said David Slade, chair of the Mill Bay Fire Protection District. “He raised the bar for volunteer fire departments; he put a lot of emphasis on training.”

“The dedication was a complete surprise and an honour I wasn’t expecting,” Balding said modestly.

When the former volunteer fire department chief joined in 1959, it was partly out of interest and partly out of self-preservation. At the time, Mill Bay’s fire truck was kept at George Hauk’s gas station, which was located next door to where the Rosebank Cottages stand today on Mill Bay Road. If you didn’t pay your $5 and join the department, your name wouldn’t go on the list of houses to save if fire struck.

“Those were fun days. You have no idea what the department was like then. It took a lot of coaching and a lot of swearing; we literally had no budget,” Balding said.

As the budget increased, so did their knowledge about safe firefighting techniques.

“In the early days, we didn’t know anything about safety, we’d just run into the house, pull out as much furniture as we could and put it under a tarp,” he added. “In those days, furniture could be out on the lawn for months and months and no one would touch it. Those were different times.”

According to Slade, a lockout occurred in about 1990. A number of firefighters quit and the district was without fire protection for about 24 hours. That’s when the community rallied, particularly Balding.

The former fire chief led the department through some turbulent times, first as an officer and then as its chief from 1991-2002. He oversaw the construction of a fire hall and ensured professional training.

“No one else wanted the damned job,” Banning said, laughing. “I was never a good firefighter, but I liked organizing things.”

The new hall on Hutchinson Road which was dedicated to him was originally going to be a reno and an addition, but the quote for a new building proved to be about the same. In addition to its seismic upgrade, aesthetically pleasing look, heat pump and additional parking, the station won honourable mention in the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s commercial building awards.

“Our fire department has some great facilities, modern equipment and we are always on the lookout for dedicated men and women who are looking for some new skills and an opportunity to serve their community,” Slade said. “You don’t have to be incredibly fit to volunteer, there are lots of other opportunities with the department.”

Those interested – the position pays a small stipend which can add up to a couple of thousand dollars annually if you attend all the callouts and functions – should email chief@mbfd.ca or deputy@mbfd.ca

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