Tucked in along the side of the Crowsnest highway at the base of the Hozameen mountain range is a small community fire hall that’s unlike any other. Besides being one of only two totally unfunded fire departments in the province, the Sunshine Valley Volunteer Fire Department (SVVFD) is home to two of the province’s youngest firefighters.
Troy Adams and Landon Jackson have been both volunteering with the SVVFD since before they could legally drive. And while the 15- and 16-year-old both say they have aspirations of becoming career firefighters, it was community connection that initially drew them to the hall a year ago.
“My dad was going on calls and he always told us the stories and I wanted to see what it was like in real life,” said Jackson, whose father joined the department three years ago when the family bought a cabin in the area.
“I just learned (about the Juniors program) last year when my brother joined and didn’t know anyone,” said Adams, who decided to join to keep his brother company.
Revised and restarted last fall by chief Chris Terry, the Sunshine Valley Volunteer Fire Department’s juniors program was designed for teens between 15 and 18, and exposes them to the same level of training as adult members.
“Our juniors are treated exactly the same as every other firefighter,” said SVVFD lieutenant, Chris Farsky. “I’m always yelling at them (like I would any other).
“They respond to all calls and do everything the rest of us do, but we won’t expose them to anything traumatic, of course. But I’d say they do it all.”
“I think it’s cool—not a lot of (teenagers) are volunteer firefighters,” said Jackson, who originally wanted to be a paramedic, but now wants to pursue firefighting professionally.
“And I’ve (also) always wanted to be a firefighter, so I thought this was a really good opportunity,” Adams added.
But more than checking off their career goals, by being members of the SVVFD, both young men have not only learned how much helping others means to them on a personal level, but they’ve created lifetime connections within the hall’s nearly two-dozen members.
“I’ve seen this fire department change (during the past three years), and it’s become a really tight-knit group of men I trust (with my husband and son),” said Leslie-Jo Field, Jackson’s mom.
“I know everyone watches these two, which is very comforting to me, but it can still be scary (as a mom). I know he’s doing something he loves to do—and at some point you just have to let them go—but it’s nerve-wracking for sure!”
Located outside the boundaries for emergency response from Hope, the SVVFD is also now officially part of the Emergency Management BC response team, meaning they get paid for those calls, but is completely reliant on gaming grants and community generosity to keep its engines running.
“We’d been responding before, but only recently—last year (in 2018)—did we become part of the system where we’re called out and paid per call,” said lieutenant Fred Risbey, Jackson’s father.
“People don’t realize how expensive this stuff can be,” said Farsky, pointing at photographs of fire equipment. All firefighting equipment and protective gear comes with an expiry date, so it’s difficult to rely on used goods when the lifespan is so drastically reduced.
“If it weren’t for (local businesses and residents), this hall wouldn’t be standing here,” Farsky continued. And every penny counts, so there’s even a community drop-off spot for bottle donations, which brought in about $5,000 last year alone.
“We just can’t say enough about the community and how well they support us. And we’ve had some really positive significant changes over the past few years, and now we’re hosting training programs (like this one).”
Along side all members of the SVVFD, Adams and Jackson practice every second Saturday and opposing Thursday, and are taking part in the Justice Institute of B.C.’s Level 1 Firefighting program, which they’ll complete this winter.
Then, when they’re finished high school—this year for Jackson, next year for Adams—they’ll not only have boots-on-the-ground experience, but they’ll also have part of the training requirements for becoming a career firefighting.
“Both (young men) are extremely dedicated and have really stuck with this,” said Field. “It’s really admirable, and (all the hall members have) truly become a team, and a family for these two guys.
“And it shows the strength of the hall that they are so supported and never pushed aside.”
For more information about the Sunshine Valley Volunteer Fire Department, please visit their website at SVVFD.com. In case of an emergency, you can reach them via 9-1-1, or by calling their emergency pager at 604-869-2404.