It was a day mixed with emotion for Honeymoon Bay fire chief John Rowley when the 20-year veteran decided to hang up the helmet and retire on Dec. 18.
Rowley had been with HBFD since 1991 and was appointed fire chief in 1997.
“I feel satisfaction. It has been a good, long run,” said Rowley.
At first, however, Rowley said he had no idea his reign as Honeymoon Bay’s fire chief would have spanned two decades when he first signed up for the position.
“I didn’t join to put in 20 years — it just happened and I got more involved with. It was very interesting, challenging and fun and I met a lot of great people,” he added.
For Rowley, the hundreds upon hundreds of hours his volunteer fire crew of 18 put in annually is what has impressed him the most over his lengthy firefighting tenure.
“The dedication of the people here is the most remarkable thing. A tremendous amount of time goes into this organization and the time these guys have to put in with practice and training. That, I think, is the biggest thrill of it all and they deserve a lot of respect,” said Rowley.
Despite the fantastic memories Rowley has had, he stressed battling blazes had its bittersweet angle, too.
“It’s a game of triumph and tragedy. There’s a lot of heartbreak that you see — people losing property and their lives and there’s also the triumph where you can intervene and maybe save a building from burning down. Those are the great things.”
Rowley said some of his best memories lied not in fighting fires but spending time with members of his crew, as they were akin to family.
It were the little things that made Rowley’s career both special and memorable.
Memories like HBFD Remembrance Day ceremonies, where the department treks up Mount Bolduc to pay homeage to the wrecked remains of a Lockheed Ventura Coastal Patrol Plane with a crew of six passengers that crashed on April 25, 1944.
HBFD has carried out this tradition for several years and the department has made Remembrance Day on Mount Bolduc a yearly ritual. It are moments like these that will stick with Rowley for the remainder of his days. Rowley even played an extensive role in having the site recognized and acquiring signage for the area.
Rowley’s tenure also saw the arrival of Cowichan Lake’s only firefighting speed boat and an increase of volunteer fire fighters.
Rowley has now turned the reigns of the department over to Keith Bird, who has since replaced the former fire chief. Bird has been with HBFD since 2004. He brings much experience and a specialized knowledge of occupational first aid to the table.
Not only is Bird a fighter of fires that devour forests, he’s also a forest enhancer. Bird works for the British Columbia Ministry of Forestry and works in the area of forest genetics, helping repopulate second-growth forests.
He’s excited to absorb his new position and hopes to maintain the same standard of quality Rowley established in his time as fire chief.
“It’s a great privilege and honour to have served with John up to this point and now my intent is to move us forward and keep the excellence as high as John as held it. The community deserves it,” said Bird.
Honeymoon Bay got their first peek at the new fire chief the same day he acquired the position, on Dec. 18. During the community’s annual Christmas dinner, Bird accepted a $1,000 cheque from the Honeymoon Bay Society for fireworks at Bay Days.
If the past year was any indication — HBFD responded to two fires and 24 calls in 2011 — Bird will have his hands full in the coming year.