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Feature - Angels of Whistler

There are many people who donate their time to make Whistler a better place, here are five of them

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"In the 1970s all people living in Alta Lake would volunteer for the fire department," he explains. "There were only 200 people here at that time. Everyone would come together and it was a social thing – and still is."

Advances in technology mean old communication practices such as the old "phone fan out" system (over a local telephone network that relied on party lines) have fallen by the wayside, replaced by pagers. And volunteers now get paid when they respond to a call.

Crichton says modern sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and greater public awareness about fire prevention also means the majority of calls the firefighters now respond to are motor vehicle accidents, rather than actual fires.

But he says the basic principles of volunteering remain the same.

"Helping people during a terrible time in their lives, when their house burns down or something, it’s nice to be able to give something back to your community."

Asked about his most memorable callout, he begins to chuckle.

"We were called out to a dump fire where there was a "honeypit," where they used to empty all the septic tanks. This pit just looked like dried mud and the fire was on the other side of the pit, and the first firefighter to run across sank right into the septic tank. That was a messy one," he laughs.

Bullets exploding during house fires with firearms inside are among other occupational hazards.

"You still get an adrenaline rush when you get a page, that’s for sure. But it’s just about staying calm and doing the job."

Crichton says nowadays a lot of young people join Whistler Fire Rescue Services in the hope of becoming fulltime firefighters. But everyone has to do their time as a volunteer first, and it’s a significant commitment.

"For the first six months you train two nights a week plus Saturdays, then once a month we have a mega practice plus three other firefighting and rescue drills," he explains. "We get training for everything – all types of extrication, swift-water rescue, high angle rescue for cliffs, basic firefighting, crane rescue, terra cranes. Plus first aid, of course."

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