When Russell Mack was first asked to be a firefighter, he scoffed at the idea.
Working as a small-engine mechanic for the City of Richmond nearly four decades ago sometimes put him in the fire hall, where a deputy chief suggested he become a first responder.
“At first, I told him no because they didn’t make any money,” Mack said with a laugh. “Finally, he convinced me that I should, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
The longtime fire chief of the Pemberton Fire Rescue Department was honoured this week with a British Columbia Long Service Bar, awarded by the Office of the Fire Commissioner for 35 years of service.
“It’s a great job,” said Mack, who’s actually been in the profession 39 years. “You see a lot of stuff that most people would never want to see … but lots of things you do are really rewarding — helping people out and helping situations out.”
Mayor Jordan Sturdy made the award presentation before Tuesday’s (Nov. 6) council meeting, and also handed a Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal to retired assistant fire chief Christian Staehli for his 20 years with the department.
Mack has been Pemberton’s fire chief since 1996, when he retired from the Richmond service. He said another reward of the job has been working alongside a number of great people over the years.
“The fire department is a team effort,” he said.
One of those people is Staehli, who had been Mack’s second-in-command until he retired this year. Staehli joined the fire department when he was 18 and still attending Pemberton Secondary School and had already been there for years when Mack arrived.
“I treat him almost like a son, I’ve known him for that long,” said Mack. “He’s an outstanding individual and was an extremely important part of this department over all those years.”
Staehli said he was humbled by the recognition Tuesday night.
“It makes me feel appreciated,” he said. “It’s certainly never about getting awards or recognition. I’ve always been in it to give a little back to the community.”
After 20 years of giving back, Staehli is looking forward to spending more time with his family at home. But he said it was tough to leave behind a great crew of firefighters, many who attended Tuesday’s award presentations.
“It is like a family and leaving that was a difficult decision,” he said. “I’m obviously still in contact with a lot of these guys and I’m sure I will be for life.”
Mack, meanwhile, plans to pass 40 years of service and then some before retiring.
“A couple more years is the plan, then we’ll see how it’s going from there,” he said.