Members of the McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department accepted the gift of a Canadian flag with messages of hope from Fort Mac crews that the local department will one day have its own fire hall.

Members of the McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department accepted the gift of a Canadian flag with messages of hope from Fort Mac crews that the local department will one day have its own fire hall.

McLeese Lake crew grateful for support in face of fires

MLVFD set sights on building fire hall after they prove themselves on Soda Creek fire

McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department president Ian Hicks said he can’t read aloud all the messages written on a Canadian flag given to his department by Fort McMurray crews last week.

“It’s very emotional. It makes me cry,” Hicks said Tuesday, as he and all the members of the MLVFD catch a well-deserved break from fighting fires. “Very heartwarming.”

The flag was a gift from people he calls his “Fort Mac Angels” for the future fire department he hopes will one day be built in McLeese Lake.

But hall or no hall, nothing stopped the five year old MLVFD from the heroic measures it took to tame a wildfire July 7 from spreading.

“We caught it at the top of the hill,” Hicks told the Tribune of the Soda Creek fire which threatened the Rankin Ranch, BC Hydro’s substation and Highway 97.

“It would have been a catastrophe, utterly apocalyptic.”

Looking back many days and sleepless nights later, Hicks said he still can’t believe the amount of volunteers and donations that came together to make it all possible.

“The last ten days have been an amazing time of full throttle volunteer action which has brought out the best in our community by far that could have ever been expected. Our little department has stood up like David to Goliath in the face of this emergency, there are so many people to thank and so many things to say,” Hicks wrote on the department’s Facebook page.

“The first person that deserves credit is Marc Gosselin our chief. He made the decision to take all available manpower and equipment to the Rankin fire and had he wavered or doubted himself for an extra 20 minutes we would be in a totally different situation right now, it was that close, we would have lost highway 97, the power line, the substation, and the entire Rankin Ranch with a huge forest fire right in our back yard. It was a gutsy move and proved to be the right one and at the right time. Then for the next nine days he has led an average of 10 volunteers out on daily fire attack, no days off, little sleep hardly, but the whole time going full steam ahead, never complaining, never giving up and leading by example and that’s why he is the chief.”

“The second person deserving credit is Vicki Ortiz, – she has waged an amazing campaign on Facebook and with her bare hands which resulted in the McLeese hall becoming an emergency supply depot that has supplied multiple other fire departments, fleeing evacuees, and townspeople and shipped supplies as far away as Anahim Lake, She networked with the Fort Mac Angels (a group of tough heroes whom I could write half a page on) who brought us an estimated $40,000 in emergency relief, supplies, fuel, food and firefighting supplies and she has spent the last 10 days in the hall leading the effort and being the nerve centre that none of this would have been possible without, she is an amazing facilitator.”

Thanks to the generous donation from the Fort Mac crew, residents in the communities of Tyee Lake, Horsefly, Big Lake. Anaham Lake and Riske Creek received bags of much needed fire supplies, food and personal items.

Hicks said when crews were fighting against the wildfire, it was Shane Zirk and his boss Frank of FKD Contracting who supplied the MLVFD with a 10,000 gallon tanker, staff and fuel for six or seven days to use as a water source, giving them ten-fold the capacity of the MLVFD trucks.

“When you’re got a fire truck hooked up to a 10,000 gallon semi, it’s the titanic of redneck volunteer ingenuity.”

He said Gibraltar Mine also allowed many employees to take time off to fight fire, and donated an estimated 1500 litres of fuel to run the trucks and equipment.

Hicks went on to acknowledge Ron Whittingham and his whole family and employees, and Calvin Black for “running everywhere to grab parts, deliver supplies, volunteer on the fire line, and fund numerous purchases out of their own pockets to piece together the fire fighting equipment that made the difference, all the while hosting the Fort Mac Angels in their homes and showing them some caribou hospitality. These men are a prime example of selflessness, generosity and tough get it done attitude, they deserve big time respect.”

Hicks said Scotty and Anna at the Oasis Pub, along with owner Rob Swan literally shut down the pub to host nightly dinners for the tired fire crew, “cooking amazing meals, no questions asked and cleaning up after.”

At one point during the fire, Hicks said a mouse and its nest were pulled into the carburetor almost causing the fire truck to catch fire. He said Kent Fletcher and Garnet Grimard worked on the fire truck early in the morning, and late at night, “fixing it with parts from Garnet’s personal supplies and Kent’s good labour.”

He said the Mcleese Lake Rec commission that runs the Hall is very supportive of the MLVFD, lending them the training room in the basement and opening the doors to the relief effort without any question.

“Steve Relcoff and all the directors deserve credit as the Mcleese Hall has proved its worth in spades and deserves more support from the community.”

Hicks also thanked his crew.

“Andrea Rourke, Kathy Rourke, Tori Rourke, Gord Rourke, Andrew Walker, Big Mike Valenius, Cori Gosselin, Dan and Mel Harrison, Dan Willan, Dominic Thorne, Gord Macarthur, Kate Macallister, Ron MacEtcheron, and wives and husbands and girlfriends, Preston, who just moved here two days before the fire and jumped right in, and his wife Stephanie, and Luke Herret and so many other volunteers that came out of the woodwork, people I had never even met before this. These are the hero’s that are willing to step up to the plate and do the tough work – coming back night after night covered in soot, dirty, tired and hungry. Oh hungry you say? How about the girls (and guys) in the kitchen preparing lunches and dinners feeding fire fighters and then cleaning up after and organizing all the relief supplies into boxes and working from dawn to dusk to keep the machine oiled and fed. My wife Jacquie who is always by my side supporting me and always ready to help with cheerful effort and good advice.”

Hicks said they are not out of the woods with the wildfires yet, but he knows the MLVFD and all its supporters can do amazing things together.

“I am extremely and utterly proud and humbled by the people in this now very large group. Shortly we will be building a fire hall, because if we can do this working off of my chief’s front lawn, imagine the possibilities.”

Hicks himself was honoured by his crew during the wildfires after it was announced that they had entered his name and story of how he got the MLVFD up and running in a contest and was name one of Molson Canadian’s top 150 Canadians.

Hicks said his crew made the announcement at the pub one night. Along with the accolades, Hicks has won a custom beer fridge full of beverages which he plans to share with the community once the threat of wildfires is over.

Williams Lake Tribune