Growing up in Vancouver, Whistler Fire Rescue Service (WFRS) Chief Geoff Playfair spent ample time in the Sea to Sky corridor hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and more.
"I was very familiar with the mountains — I did a lot of work on trails with an outdoor club I was involved in in high school, so I worked on trails like the Singing Pass Trail and the Wedge Trail and the Rainbow Trail doing maintenance in my teens," Playfair said.
"I was very familiar with this area, and after travelling for five years in various parts of the world and working here and there, I kind of kept comparing other places to here, and finally found myself living here."
He was 23 years old when he first made Whistler his home.
Three and a half decades later, Whistler's fire chief was recognized for 35 years of service with a ceremony at the Nov. 21 council meeting.
"It's sobering to realize I've been here that long," he said with a laugh.
"It certainly does give pause for reflection in terms of the changes over the course of that time, but at the same time, I think it's a reminder that time flies when you're focused and looking forward as opposed to backward all the time.
"I'm just continually energized to come to work, and in a way, surprised that many years have come past."
A lot has changed in Whistler since 1982, starting with the WFRS itself. When Playfair arrived, the hall on Village Gate Boulevard was a new building housing all of the community's fire, police and ambulance services.
Construction crews were still hard at work building Whistler Village, and being here in that time gave Playfair an intimate knowledge of the structures that now make up the town.
"Not just in the early construction phases, but also responding to them over the years and watching those buildings age... in all we're very, very fortunate in Whistler, in that we have a very new infrastructure," he said.
As the resident population and visitor numbers ballooned over the years, the WFRS took on new responsibilities and new programs like accident and medical response — programs Playfair played a huge role in developing.
"Being integral on the ground floor with all of those programs, it was really interesting and exciting for me in terms of staying focused and staying interested over the years," he said.
"The opportunities to get involved with things was as simple as putting up your hand, so of course when those programs came on board I was front and centre with a lot of that stuff, and so it was just fun being part of it, and great to see it continue."
Looking to the future, Playfair said the biggest challenge facing the WFRS — and Whistler in general — is dealing with the threat of wildfire.
"You can see from what happened this summer in B.C. that responding to wildfires is not the answer... you obviously have to have a solid response, but clearly prevention is the better way to go about this," he said.
Part of that will mean taking a hard look at our current built environment.
"We want to have structures that are resilient to wildfire so that when the fires occur, because they will, ... we're simply resilient to it," Playfair said.
"And that's a bit of a leap from where we are, and I think, No. 1, that's our biggest challenge."
The good news, he added, is that council has made wildfire mitigation a priority in recent years.
"That's really encouraging, but we've got a lot of work to do," he said.
But even after 35 years, Playfair is still ready to do that work.
"I think it's really about staying positive and looking forward," he said.
"Thirty-five years gives you a chance to look backwards, but ultimately I think so much of long-term survival in work is a positive attitude, and some of that comes from looking forward and focusing on the tasks of the day, but it also comes from having a long-term goal in mind."