By Steve Hubrecht

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Invermere resident Richard Brunner won a bronze medal on March 31 as part of Team Alberta at the Canadian Fire Fighters Curling Association Championships. 

The bronze represents tremendous success for Brunner and his teammates, Scott Jordan, Cory Campbell, Josh Van Arnam and director Trish Young. For all of them ,it was the first time to compete at the national level. Making their odds longer was the fact the team had never actually curled together before this season.

“We really were just thrown together,” said Brunner.

The Canadian Fire Fighters Curling Association Championships were held from March 24 to April 1 in Montague, P.E.I. The event is open to volunteer, full-time, and military fire fighter curling teams. It was the first time the event was held since 2019, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Brunner, who plays lead, and his teammates played together for the very first time at the Alberta Fire Fighters Association Provincial Championships on Jan. 28. Brunner and his family have lived in Invermere for 14 years, but he works for the Calgary Fire Department. That’s why he represented Alberta instead of British Columbia.

All had played in the provincials before, and all were good curlers. But they did not expect to pose a genuine challenge to the three teams that typically dominate the provincials. Then they beat the top-ranked team in their first game. After their first win the team took the whole competition differently.

“We took it a bit more seriously after that. We realized we could win,” said Brunner. 

“It turns out our dynamic was pretty good,” said Brunner. 

Brunner and team won the provincials, punching a ticket to P.E.I.

The new Team Alberta was excited to head to nationals, but weren’t dreaming of a medal there, he said.

At the 2019 nationals, Team Alberta came eighth out of 10 provinces. 

“So that was our baseline,” said Brunner. 

Brunner’s team was delighted with their results in P.E.I., having won the final three round robin games, finishing with an overall record of 6 wins and 3 losses. That’s how they squeaked into the fourth and final playoff spot.

The Canadian Fire Fighters Curling Association Championships use the page playoff system. This meant fourth-ranked Team Alberta played third-ranked Team Manitoba in the quarterfinal. Team Alberta won, advancing to the semifinal against Team British Columbia. The semifinal was closely contested and ended tied after regular play, prompting extra ends. There, B.C. narrowly prevailed and left Alberta with a bronze. Brunner was gutted to just barely miss winning the final. 

“But we were still really pumped to get a medal” he said.

Team B.C. beat Team Southern Ontario in the gold medal game.

Brunner’s wife Jocelyn and their children Ireland, Embry and Alexandra traveled to P.E.I and turning the competition into a family vacation. Rain and snow while they were out east meant the island’s famous red dirt became car-caking red mud.

“It was great,” said Brunner.

Brunner grew up in the Columbia Valley, then left for post secondary education in Calgary.  He met Jocelyn and the couple lived there for almost a decade. After their oldest girl was born, they relocated to Invermere for its outdoor lifestyle. Brunner began curling in high school. He stopped playing when he left the valley, but picked the sport up again during his second year with Calgary Fire Department. At that time the Calgary Fire Department had a 16 team curling league. That eventually fizzled out seven or eight years ago but Brunner kept curling with some fire department friends in Calgary, and with the local league in the Columbia Valley. Brunner kept his job with the Calgary Fire Department and has been  there for 22 years commuting to and from the city for two 24-hour shifts every eight days.

“Fire fighting is something I’ve always enjoyed, so I stuck with it,” Brunner said. “The Calgary Fire Department is really great to work for.”