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Salish wildfire crew awarded for 25 years of service

Some members in their 50s and still going strong

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After 25 years of fighting forest fires with the same team, crew supervisor Ryan Pascal said they are like one big family.

Pascal, of Mount Currie, and five of his colleagues in the Salish Unit Crew have been together for so long that they rely on each other without having to ask.

"That's really important," he said. "We don't really even have to talk to each other on the line — we know what's going to happen, what's going to go on. We've known each other for so long."

Pascal and Marshall Ritchie, Lance Joe, Brennan Dan, Cecil Edmonds and Calvin Nelson were recently awarded for their 25 years of service at a BC Wildfire Service ceremony in Victoria. The ceremony was attended by hereditary chief of the Lil'Wat Nation, Leonard Andrew, and elected chief Dean Nelson, who started as a Salish crew leader in 1990 and served for 15 years. Also on hand were BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) executive director Madeline Maley, BCWS director Ian Meier, and Coastal Fire Centre manager Ken Taekema.

"We went to the lieutenant-governor's house — it was good food, lots of good company," he said with a laugh.

Pascal joined up when he working with the Squamish Forest District. He was asked to join the program, and added: "I never looked back."

He has worked with his five crew members the entire time. A unit crew consists of 20 firefighters — with one crew supervisor, four crew leaders and 15 crew members. He said the powersaws got a little bigger and more powerful over the years, but much of the equipment is as it always was.

"You get a big rush out of it when the fire is really moving and you're trying to stop it.

"I still enjoy the job — we're all together, it's like one big family," he said. "If they ship us to Quebec or somewhere, we're gone for 19 days, it helps to have a lot of people that you know around you and most of those guys, I grew up with them, playing soccer and softball."

Pascal has no intention of slowing down as he turns 59 next year.

"I've still got a few more years left. I can still pass that fitness test — it's tougher but I still can do it," he said. "There's a few of us in our 50s now in the crew." Every January, he and his crew start to hike, sometimes five times a week in order to elevate their fitness level for the coming season.

Pascal recalls notable fires that tested crews: The 2015 Elaho fire near Pemberton; the Garnet fire of 1994 in Penticton — in which 18 homes were lost — and the 1991 Stoner fire in Prince George, which was the first fire they travelled to and it was the first time on a plane for some of the crew.

"That's one of the big ones that stands out," he said.

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