Princeton volunteer firefighters extinguished the grass fire near Highway 5A before building a soft guard perimeter. They worked around a tarped body carefully, so as not to interfere with the scene. Photo Credit Andrea DeMeer

Small town firefighters rise above stress at grisly scene

“We were not informed there was a body there. We were informed there was a grass fire.”

When Princeton volunteer firefighters responded last Thursday to grass and car blazes near the airport, containment and the threat of a spreading wildfire were the only things on their minds.

They were not aware there was a body on the ground.

“They just came across it,” said chief Rob Banks. “We were not informed there was a body there. We were informed there was a grass fire.”

The discovery could not distract the first responders from their priority – which was to extinguish three separate spot fires before they jumped Highway 5A and moved into the valley.

“Fires like that, there was wind that day, can spread very quickly,” said Banks. “You have to look at what is going on in the province.”

Firefighters were tasked with dousing the flames while staying away from the body as much as possible so as to not disturb the scene.

Related: Man dies of burns and self-inflicted wounds in bizarre public death

RCMP and other first responders were unable to get to the dead man until the fire was out.

Later police determined the 30-year-old victim, whose identity was not released, died of burns and self-inflicted wounds. The grass fire was ignited when the man ran from his burning car and fell to the ground.

Following the events last week a post-traumatic stress and critical incident worker was called in to speak with volunteer firefighters.

Banks said that is the second time such a call has been necessary during his time with the department. Approximately 10 years ago help was sought after a fire killed two local residents.

It’s regrettable, he added, that this death was witnessed by so many people.

“It brings it into the public and the public doesn’t need to see that. Nobody needs to see that.”

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