A Riske Creek resident who stayed behind to help protect properties during the 2017 wildfires is forming a volunteer fire department to serve his area.
Mike Elvin owns the Old School on Highway 20 about 48 kilometres west of Williams Lake and told the Tribune he and a dozen “Riske Creek Rebels” are becoming volunteer firefighters.
Elvin explained “Riske Creek Rebels” was the name given to residents of the area who refused to leave during the 2017 wildfire evacuation order.
“At this point I can say we are taking baby steps and can use any assistance from other fire departments to help us with our efforts to form a fire department,” Elvin said, adding West Fraser Fire Dept. Chief Phil Megyesi and McLeese Lake Fire Dept. President Ian Hicks have already donated some safety clothing and gear for the new fire department.
Hicks said he gave Elvin 15 pairs of turnout gear, pants, jackets and gloves, seven helmets, a box of medical supplies, a spine board, a box full of firefighting manuals and four SCBA oxygen tanks units with masks.
“He’s really the right guy,” Hicks said of Elvin wanting to head up a volunteer fire department. “Every word that comes out of the man’s mouth is just exactly what I want to hear. He is going to make a great leader and has the right attitude.”
Drawing on his own experience starting a fire department, Hicks told Elvin his best advice is to just be there and do things.
“When the people are hurt in the ditch and need help and you have to control traffic, put the gear on and show up and do the right thing.”
Hicks also advised Elvin to form a society, start a bank account, and start raising money.
“I told him I cooked 2,000 burgers, collected pop bottles, and we bought a first truck for $1,500 and by God just went from there.”
When Elvin visited him in McLeese Lake last weekend to pick up the gear, Hicks said it was a surreal experience pulling out the equipment.”
“He looked like a kid at Disneyland or on Christmas morning. I was the same way four years ago when guys were giving me supplies.”
Last November, the “Riske Creek Rebels” sprang to action and helped a logging truck driver who was in a crash.
“By the time the RCMP showed up we had the driver out of the truck and the Medevac had landed on the highway, and all the logs were bucked up and off the road,” Elvin said. “With that accident and the 2017 wildfires we showed that we are very capable.”
Elvin believes the Old School will make a perfect fire hall where the firefighters can meet.
He envisions the department having pumps, hoses and clear water baskets they can carry in the back of pickup trucks as water supply is a “big problem.”
“If we go to a fire we will have to do the best we can with the water we have and then use a water-feed truck.”
All fire department members will have a tote with safety gear to carry with them at all times, and Elvin is hoping to get some personal first aid supplies that can go in those totes.
Communication is a big challenge, he said, because there is no cell phone coverage in the area, but Elvin is hoping to find out from Telus if the VHF radio system could be reactivated until cell service becomes a reality.
“I’m sure the infrastructure for VHF is still in place and it would sure open up a safety factor that we don’t have anymore.”
He also thinks it is crucial to develop a fire protection plan, he added.
“It’s coming up to the end of February and it’s 25 below and there is snow on the ground, but by mid-April we could have fires,” he said. “I think we need some rules in place and we need to get the word out that if someone is going to burn their grass to call us up and we can be there with watering cans. It is not the old days anymore where you just light a match and burn your grass.”
The plan will also include encouraging people to firesmart their properties, he said.
Prior to moving to Riske Creek 14 years ago, Elvin volunteered with search and rescue on the Sunshine Coast and said he has good experience making projects work.
“I want our crew to be like the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War,” he added. “I want a good, safe effective crew and I’ve got that. Now if we can get some help from the outside world and get everyone working together it will be better for the entire community.”
Any fire departments that have items they could possibly donate, contact Elvin at 250-659-5721 or by e-mail email@example.com.