He has trained firefighters in Afghanistan and battled blazes in minus 50 C in Nunavut. He also survived a firetruck rollover in the Interior.
And he is always seeking a new challenge.
Now Geoffrey Spriggs is the new deputy fire chief for the City of Maple Ridge and is looking forward to working in a dynamic, young community where he can inspire future leaders.
Spriggs, who hails from Langford on Vancouver Island, was only 19-years-old when he started as a volunteer firefighter. It was almost by accident, said the 46-year-old from his office in Hall 1. He was interviewed as part of an investigation into a deck fire at a neighbour’s house and was subsequently invited to the firehall where he was asked to join the volunteer service.
His journey in the firefighting service has been one of being in the right place at the right time, he said. He maintained his volunteer position while attending university, always looking for potential job opportunities. Then the fire chief at the time suggested he put his name in for a position at the dispatch centre, which he got. He then started making his way up the ladder: he moved into a supervisory position at the centre, combined it with firefighting, and was next propelled into management positions.
But it was in 2003 while he was fighting fires in the Interior that he was involved in a rollover that would later inspire one of his two main passions – improving mental health supports for first responders.
“The road was gravel and the shoulder looked more stable than it actually was,” explained Spriggs. The driver took a turn a touch too wide and the embankment gave way, he said.
The firetruck rolled side-over-side five times, sending three of his fellow firefighters to hospital with broken bones. Spriggs and the other firefighters survived with minor bumps and bruises. They were lucky to be alive.
“When we had the crash we had a few different instances of well-meaning people descend and say, ‘You’re broken we have to come and fix you’. And it wasn’t the right approach,” said Spriggs.
He has since used the incident as a teaching point saying mental health professionals are fantastic, but the system will only work better if firefighters are part of the healing process.
Spriggs has been involved in international conferences on the topic and has also worked with WorkSafeBC on resilient studies for what their service encounters while performing their duties.
He would still like to see a well thought out mental health program, and is interested in understanding the education system surrounding mental health supports in the service.
2003 was also the year Spriggs, two other Langford firefighters, and a videographer travelled to Afghanistan for two weeks to volunteer their time training Afghan firefighters.
“We had no illusion we were changing the world,” he said, adding that the confidence and new equipment the Afghan firefighters received did change a few peoples’ lives – and inspired subsequent programs that brought Afghan firefighters to Canada for training at the Justice Institute in Maple Ridge.
In 2019, after 25 years in the service, and receiving the Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal marking 20 years of service by the Governor General of Canada, Spriggs obtained a post in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
As director of emergency services, Spriggs had the opportunity to experience extreme winter firefighting in a community that was dealing with major infrastructure issues.
Sometimes it wasn’t easy getting water out of fire hydrants, Spriggs said, because the water system was having “end of life” challenges. Sometimes, there were no fire hydrants at all, he said. And firefighters had to be very careful opening a hydrant when temperatures hovered between minus 30 and 50 C because the water could freeze.
“I did get my wish to fight fires in minus 50,” he said, adding that in the 18 months he spent in the community he enjoyed a pretty rare opportunity that not a lot of people get to experience.
Spriggs’ other passion is climate change, another issue he would like to focus on. He sees Maple Ridge as a great place to examine challenges of forest fires and floods, that are becoming commonplace across the country.
“Forest fires are arguably closely linked to climate change issues and I think that is a huge impact to the service coming forward,” he said, especially when it comes to prevention.
Ultimately Spriggs wants to help develop a vision forward for the department: to find out what the best way to deliver the service with public safety is, and firefighter safety as the focus.
And he wants to help with a positive attitude, to have fun doing it, and keep everybody safe.
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