Beaver Creek Volunteer Fire Department used to count about 20 callouts a year when it was formed in 1977, a figure that has mushroomed to 180 annually.
“Things have changed over the years,” said Capt. Charlie Starratt.
What hasn’t changed is the hall’s reliance on a relatively small group of residents willing to dedicate long hours to training and responding to emergencies at a moment’s notice.
While celebrating its 40th anniversary over the weekend, the department honoured a handful of volunteers, including two stalwarts — Assistant Chief Gord Jones and Fire Information Officer Ted Maczulat — whose service to the rural community spans all four decades.
“Gord probably has the best attendance record of anybody in the hall,” Starratt said. “When Gord’s not here, people are wondering where he’s at.”
The hall opened its doors to the community Friday night and held an awards banquet Saturday at the Best Western Barclay Hotel. A number of residents attended the open house and shared memories of the early years. It wasn’t an easy start, they said.
“It took three referendums before people voted for a fire department,” Jones recalled. The regional district got involved in the third vote and that seemed to convince enough people to lend their support.
“We ended up going house to house, asking people if they would support a volunteer fire department,” said Diane Dol, who assisted the organizing committee. Their efforts met with success.
From the start they had 27 residents willing to sign on as firefighters. The first firehall was built with volunteer labour on the same site as the current one.
Volunteers in those days were given permission by local mills to respond to emergencies when they were on shift. Volunteers today don’t necessarily have that flexibility.
Starratt said the department is in great shape overall, though they haven’t always been so well equipped.
“We ran for a lot of years with just 18,” he recalled. “People don’t realize how time consuming it can be. Very few volunteers come in knowing what they’re getting into.”
Most calls now are “ambulance assists.” They’re often pressed into service as first responders when B.C. Ambulance Service crews are tied up with other emergencies.
“Things are really good for us,” Starratt said of the department’s current status. “We have a good working relationship with other departments.”
A mutual agreement has been in place for years between the four departments, assuring effective co-operation, said Capt. Jim Jones: “All pagers go off at the same time.”
There were moments of high drama along the way, some of which are preserved in news clippings mounted on the hall’s upper floor meeting room. Jones recalled a fire that swept through a half-dozen classrooms at Gill elementary school in the late 1980s. The blaze was attributed to an electrical short circuit. Without the department, the whole school could have been lost.
“It was rip-roaring away when we got there but we managed to knock it down.”
A fire at Sproat Lake Bridge was another memorable call-out in those years. Krause Farm barn fire was a big one, too, a conflagration in the middle of summer.
One of their proudest moments was when Deputy Chief Mike Kobus and a crew earned a medal in auto extraction at the national level.
In addition to fire calls and ambulance backups, they now include automobile extractions in their list of duties. Training is also more rigorous, a lot of more studying and certification. Improvements in equipment and technology — automatic callouts, for example — have enhanced their capabilities over the decades.
Though the rural community has grown considerably since 1977, a willingness to step forward in service to its citizens remains a solid fixture in Beaver Creek.
“We’re not in urgent need of recruits,” Starratt said.
“We’re not actively recruiting, but we don’t turn people away.”