Geoff Playfair had only recently arrived in Whistler when, in January 1982, he witnessed the largest fire in the community's young history claim the nearly-finished Keg at The Mountain building.
It would inspire a lifelong calling for Playfair, who will be retiring from the Whistler Fire Rescue Service next month after 36 years.
"I saw that and joined the force shortly thereafter," recounted Playfair, who was one of the resort's first paid professional firefighters.
Since then, he has watched the department grow from a crew largely made up of volunteers, to "a combined department that developed in the 1990s and increased our expertise and knowledge base with full-time staff," he said.
Playfair, who took over as fire chief in 2015, will leave the post on June 25. According to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, he leaves "some big shoes to fill."
"Geoff brought a remarkable level of professionalism to the job that was evident in everything he did," she added, noting how Playfair was ahead of the curve on several important issues over the years, including the importance of FireSmarting the community from wildfire.
"We laughed at the time. We thought we were safe living in the middle of the rainforest ... but Geoff demonstrated that just because we were in a rainforest, we weren't immune to wildfire."
Playfair led a number of initiatives at the department throughout his career. He oversaw a vehicle-extrication training program for a handful of years and, in 1993, launched a critical incident stress management program for firefighters to support each other through on-the-job trauma—years before the prevalence of PTSD among first responders was common knowledge.
"Being part of that program ... and seeing the benefit it's provided to our staff over the years has been really rewarding," he said.
As fire chief, Playfair said he was most proud of how dedicated the community has been to mitigating wildfire risk.
"That's been near and dear to me and I've been working on that (FireSmart) project since about 2005 in various measures and ways. Certainly I see the threat of wildfire as the No. 1 threat to the valley. The amount of awareness today even compared to three years ago has been incredible to see."
With a property in the South Chilcotins and an apple orchard just south of Lillooet, Playfair said he doesn't plan on "sitting on the front porch in my rocking chair" during retirement. An avid biker, Playfair said he intends to dedicate more time to mountain-bike guiding in the summer and volunteering with the Lillooet Off Road Cycling Association. He also wants to continue training officers through the B.C. Fire Academy both in-class and online.
"It's been such an honour to be able to lead the Fire Service and be apart of it over the years I have, and work with the community," Playfair said. "Whistler is a group of overachieving underachievers, if you will, and ... we're all for the most part highly educated people that choose not to necessarily follow the formal career path. A lot of people are here just doing what we love, and that includes the Fire Service."
The job posting for Playfair's replacement closed on Wednesday, May 16.