After the sudden passing of Fire Chief Ken McClure last fall, the department lost its primary face and passionate leader. It was up to the rest of the crew to step up and attempt to fill McClure’s shoes, and much of that responsibility fell on the shoulders of Deputy Chief Ken Squarebriggs.
In fact, the same day that McClure passed away, Golden Fire and Rescue had to respond to a call and Squarebriggs was forced to step into the chief’s role for the first time, a position he held until the hiring of Chief Dave Balding earlier this spring.
“I’m used to being the operations guy that gets sent out to take control out there and let him know what’s going on…but I had to stay back. ‘I’m in charge now and you take Ops’,” he recalled. “It was a pretty short transition but he trained us that way…he made sure we were trained and prepared.”
Squarebriggs followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the rural fire service in Grand Forks in 1994 at the age of 19, the minimum age at the time. The decision to join the fire service was an easy one.
“I grew up around it. My dad was a volunteer in fire rescue and a paramedic in the Okanagan so it was something I’d seen from as early as I can remember. Always being at the fire halls and the Christmas functions and that stuff growing up,” Squarebriggs said.
Squarebriggs moved to Golden in 2007 and it didn’t take him long to sign up with the local service.
“I was here for a week or so and I stopped by (the station) and all of a sudden there was this hand hanging out the door and it was Shawn Tomash who I went to trade school with,” he said.
After Tomash found out that his former classmate was moving to Golden he encouraged Squarebriggs to sign up and “that was that”, he says.
Squarebriggs started off as a fire fighter in Golden before working his way through the ranks as a lieutenant, training officer and captain before being promoted to Deputy Chief in 2013.
“I think there’s definitely a sense of serving your community,” Squarebriggs said when asked what drives him to serve on the department.
“The fire department gets called the people’s worst hour and we do our best to mitigate, control and save lives.
“Everytime you go out and you’re helping the community it just makes you feel a part of it.”
The sense of camaraderie amongst the members of the department is another aspect that Squarebriggs enjoys about this line of volunteer work.
“When you’re out there and you’re dealing with a dangerous situation, you’ve gotta have trust and faith (in others)…you build it over time,” he said.
During his eight years in Golden, Squarebriggs has seen a vast change in the quality of the equipment available to the local department. After a difficult road rescue call a couple of years ago, it became clear that better equipment was needed.
“That was a defining point for us…it was such a nip and tuck call with the fire and the two people trapped and not enough equipment,” he recalled.
Everyone survived the accident but it still served as an eye opener for the entire department. The fruits of that realization arrived earlier this year in the form of Rescue 120, a state of the art road rescue vehicle.
Recently, Squarebriggs was honoured with a federal medal for 20 years of fire fighting service. His goal now is to complete 25 years in order to receive provincial recognition.
While he admits that it is a huge time commitment, Squarebriggs also believes volunteering with the department is an intensely rewarding experience.
“Life’s a fragile thing and every time we’re out there and we make that difference…it’s pretty awesome.”