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English degree sparks career in emergency

May 26, 2023

Woman in uniform standing with arms crossed in front of a fire truck.

Humanities grad Erin Stockill built upon skills gained at UVic to become a key player in emergency management and preparedness for the District of Saanich.

When a construction crew accidentally struck an unmarked gas line running beneath a southern Saanich road last January, the emergency response from the municipality was swift: within the hour, electricity to the area was cut, a small residential fire was extinguished, and occupants of the neighboring elementary school, residences and apartment buildings were evacuated to a temporary comfort centre set up nearby. With no injuries reported and the gas line repaired, order was restored within the span of four hours.

For Erin Stockill, BA ’13, days like this are just another part of her job as Emergency Program Officer for the District of Saanich.

“On that day, I was greeting the evacuees from the apartment buildings and directing them to the comfort centre, where they kept warm until it was determined that it was safe for them to go back home,” Stockill says. “It’s really cool to be a part of the team of first-responder agencies working together in an emergency to minimize its impact on the community. It’s like… heck yeah! That’s my job! It’s pretty neat.” 

In her role, she provides professional technical support for the development and implementation of emergency mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery plans and programs and initiatives for municipal departments, staff and the community. One shift, she might show the public how to build an emergency kit, the next she might train a team of Emergency Support Services volunteers.

The path that led Stockill to the job she loves included her degree in English. 

“My degree at UVic really gave me fundamental communication skills that have allowed me to excel in my career. Right now, I oversee and communicate regularly with more than 100 volunteers and staff. I write reports for the highest offices in local government and collaborate with community partners at federal, provincial and regional levels. I just wouldn’t be in this position without my English degree.”

Throughout her undergrad, Stockill was unclear about what she would do after graduation. An interest in writing led her to major in English; a need for money led her to work part-time in family and child care for the District of Oak Bay. 

Ultimately, it was an underlying desire to serve the community that led her to join the Saanich Police Department as a reserve constable—a program of uniformed, trained volunteers who support the district’s community policing and crime-prevention efforts.

After being promoted to Sergeant in her fourth year and then continuing in the role for another two more, Stockill had enough of a taste of emergency response to know this was her calling. An administrative position as a Fire Clerk with the District of Oak Bay came up, which at first seemed like a step in the right direction, but the memories from her time in the reserves left Stockill missing the front-line experience. 

“I wanted to do more. I was supporting people who were helping others, but I started to feel like I was stuck at the department. I wanted to be one of the hands and boots on the ground.”

Bolstered by support and mentorship from Oak Bay’s fire chief, Stockill then began a certificate program through the Justice Institute of BC to pursue a career in emergency management.

“Because of the work I did at UVic, the certificate in emergency management was very attainable, even while I was working full time. I was able to leap-frog through the program into my current role,” she reflects. 

—Philip Cox, MA '19

This article appears in the UVic Torch alumni magazine.

For more Torch stories, go to the UVic Torch alumni magazine page.