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Skeena Voices | ‘It’s about being there when people need help’

Thornhill fire chief Rick Boehm reflects on his journey
Thornhill fire chief Rick Boehm with the department’s ladder truck.

Last month has been one of the busiest for the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department for as long as Rick Boehm can remember. And Boehm’s memory goes as far back as the 90s when he joined the fire department as a young lad, fresh out of air cadet training.

Born and raised in Terrace, Boehm is well known in the community as the fire chief of the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Dept.

But the 46-year-old’s connection started back in 1993, after the fire chief at the time, Art Hoving, took Boehm and a couple of other teenage air cadets under his wing.

“I was blessed to be in this building with my friends when I was in my teens,” Boehm said, adding that his friend’s parents were volunteer firefighters.

“The fire chief asked us ‘what are you boys going to do after air cadets?’ We started looking at each other with a blank stare because we had not thought about it,” he said.

So, Hoving got the boys to join some practice sessions with the team and that same evening the alarm went off at the station for a fire notification.

“We were pretty much working from that point forward,” Boehm said.

After three decades, he still sees it as a great way to keep serving the community.

“Being a part of the fire organization is not just about putting out fires, it’s about being there when people need help; it’s a very diverse function in small communities,” he said.

While continuing to volunteer with the fire department, Boehm, who is a certified automotive service technician, worked with local auto shops in town.

In the early 2000s he was offered the opportunity to further his education in this field and transition from fixing cars to fixing fire trucks.

“As you can imagine, it was very appealing for me,” he said. However, the job took him out of the community for nine years. During that time, he travelled throughout parts of the province and Yukon, servicing various types of fire trucks.

So when he decided to move back to Terrace to be able to spend more time with his five children, the experience accumulated through all these years of travel was very valuable.

It had provided him a huge amount of exposure to how a lot of small, rural fire departments work and what kind of equipment they use.

“I don’t think I would be as effective today, if I didn’t have that exposure, so I’m really grateful for that time,” he said.

In 2013 he took up the job as the deputy fire chief and went on to become the chief in 2015.

No two days on the job, and no two hours for that matter, are the same, according to Boehm.

“We’re out in the field, responding to events, it’s not a nine to five job,” he said, explaining that calls can come in at any time of the day.

Under Boehm’s leadership the department has grown and now has nearly 50 volunteer firefighters.

Most of the those who volunteer their time serve the community out of the “kindness of their heart,” he says.

Boehm especially counts his blessings in this matter because the number of volunteers in fire departments across the country is fast shrinking.

At the same time, Boehm said the support from the local government is phenomenal too, referring to the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine which finances the department.

Thanks to the regional district’s financial support, their department is well set up with state-of-the-art equipment and vehicles.

During his career, there have been a lot of spectacular incidents responded to by Boehm and the team.

Above all, the 2018 wildfires in Telegraph Creek have been etched in to his memory.

And with Boehm also being the emergency program coordinator for the regional district, the wildfire response took him into the area for an intense period.

It was a seven-day deployment to help facilitate a response to the wildfire in conjunction with the local governments, the province of B.C.’s emergency management team and the Tahltan First Nation.

Looking back, he says, it has been a “super rewarding” journey and a good portion of that is attributed to the volunteer firefighters on his team.

“Ultimately my success is 100 per cent reflective of the memberships’ involvement and direct contribution to the community because without them, we’ve got nothing,” Boehm said.

About the Author: Binny Paul

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