Whistler's second Fire Chief, Gary Rogers, and 17-year fire dispatcher Cliff Jennings had not seen each other in more than 30 years. But when they walked through the door of Fire Hall #1 last Saturday night the years quickly slipped away. The two long-time, but now distant fire fighting colleagues quickly fell into reminiscence, big stories and tall tales.
Rogers and Jennings were just two of the more than 80 former and current fire fighters who gathered for their bi-annual alumni dinner at Fire Hall #1.
Whistler's fire alum meet to celebrate and keep the flame of friendship, great memories and heroic efforts alive. This year's event included the celebration and recognition of a milestone in the department's history. In May of 1980, a ribbon cutting ceremony (with cake) marked the opening of Whistler's now longest serving public building - Fire Hall #1 on Village Gate Boulevard.
Former Fire Chief Lindsay Wilson acknowledged that even at the hall's planning stages, RMOW staff and fire officials recognized the significance of the building's design, placement and service to the fledgling community.
"We knew that the fire hall would be an important and solid anchor on the landscape and for the community," said Wilson. The former chief, who served two terms in the '70s and '80s reminisced saying, "the friendships we had and memories we shared at Hall #1 are forever, no matter how long between our visits."
With a tradition that reaches back to 1962, when a cache of hoses and a forestry pump was placed into service by the small summer community on Alta Lake Road, the volunteering spirit and enthusiasm continues to today.
Over the years, fire fighting volunteers have included community-minded individuals such as loggers, ski bums, carpenters, real estate agents and mountain guides. Many of those that turned out Saturday had volunteer careers of 10, 20 and even 30 years.
Recently retired volunteer Jim Creighton beamed as he renewed old friendships and marveled at the evolution in Whistler's fire service.
"In my 30 years we went from some pretty rough gear and older equipment to a department with industry-leading tools, training and staff," he said. "This celebration is a great way to hang on to that history and pass along some of the old guys' memories to the young girls and guys of today who may not know the traditions that came before them."
Chiefs Wilson and Rogers unveiled a commemorative plaque that listed the names and years of service of the eight men who have served as fire Chief in Whistler and its predecessor namesake, Alta Lake.
Mayor Ken Melamed and former fire Chief Tony Evans sent along words of congratulations and best wishes. Mayor Melamed recognized the value of the volunteers' contributions over the decades and the significance of the fire hall itself as an iconic Whistler landmark.