Ian Hicks believes you get what you give.
“It’s all about Karma, right,” says Hicks, president of the McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Society.
It’s been with that optimism and tenacity that Hicks and other community members from McLeese Lake have formed the fledgling volunteer firefighting group in the last year and are working hard to make it an official fire department.
“We threw out a seed and the universe just keeps giving us gifts to help us along the way.”
A McLeese Lake resident for 20 years, Hicks says he was always bothered by the community’s inability to respond to calls for help, particularly given that McLeese Lake is situated half way between Williams Lake and Quesnel, and along a stretch of Highway 97 where winter driving conditions can be tough.
Hicks’ worst fears came true Feb. 9, 2012 when a horrible head-on crash claimed the lives of five family members traveling through from Prince George. Emergency crews from Wildwood and Williams Lake were dispatched to help, but both vehicles were fully engulfed in flames when help arrived.
“After that family died I had really had enough. I wasn’t going to have a repeat of what happened.”
Hicks, whose business is taking care of transfer stations for the Cariboo Regional District, bought a truck with his own money and left it in town with the keys in it as he attempted to start a volunteer fire department.
“It’s not just as easy as buying trucks, I’ve come to learn.”
Little by little though, things starting coming together for the group. They formed an official society, Gibraltar Mines donated $10,000 in seed money, Hicks signed over the truck to the society and Stan McCarthy of the 150 Mile Volunteer Fire Department offered the society’s 14 eager members a weekend of training.
If that wasn’t enough, the group managed to intercept a load of firefighting supplies sitting at the Victoria airport that was destined for Afghanistan last spring.
“It blew my mind –– we got enough turnout gear to outfit 50 people.”
Hicks says the Canadian government was supplying Afghans with the expensive gear to aid in their fight against the Taliban but discovered terrorists were stealing the gear, stuffing the breathing masks with dynamite and using them as roadside bombs.
Hicks says the society got a brand new jaws of life, 30 sets of breathing apparatus and an air refilling station from the supplies and used it to build a quick response unit.
This past summer the crew got their first taste of success when they responded to several fires in tinder dry conditions under the new power line to Gibraltar Mines.
Hicks says luck was on their side again when they discovered a nearby lake to draw water from and their otherwise parked truck just happened to be insured.
“By God, we did it,” Hicks says of helping to douse the flames, using the light from their cell phones to signal one another in the dark.
Hicks also credits fellow member Brad McMillian for his efforts in getting the trucks up and running.
“He could build a bulldozer out of a refrigerator,” he says of McMillan.
Hicks says the group has to operate for two years before the Cariboo Regional District will even consider helping the society become an official fire department.
In the meantime, Hicks says they are funding their society “with hot dogs and cans” and is eyeing the boarded-up McLeese Lake school gym as a much-needed option for storing their fire trucks in the winter. As it stands now, the crew cannot respond to fires in the winter months.
So far, he said the school district hasn’t shown much interest in the project.
“We are moving forward and we’re not giving up.”