Imagine saving so many lives you lose track of the number.

Imagine the features of a grateful smokey face fading away after the survivor’s tears have dried.

Imagine the fires, the heroics and the sacrifices made over a lengthy career in the fire service that outlasted three dalmatians and a series of mayors and councils.

After 40 years serving with Invermere Fire Rescue – including 36 years as fire chief – Roger Ekman and his dalmatian sidekick have officially retired.

Mr. Ekman isn’t sure how many lives have been saved on his team’s watch, with support from paramedics and healthcare workers, but he pegs the number at somewhere above 50.

“Every call is rewarding,” he said. “You rush out there. Your adrenaline’s running.”

At his retirement celebration on Tuesday, June 19th at the Columbia Valley Centre, tables of photo albums displayed decades of fires extinguished and training completed.

Jason Roe, the new fire chief, thanked Mr. Ekman for his service and for his example. Then Mr. Roe presented Mr. Ekman with a range of gifts including a fireman’s axe and a plaque from the Governor General congratulating him on his service.

Mr. Ekman was “always a supporter of quality training,” Mr. Roe said, adding that the chief would go so far as to source old houses that were at the end of their lives “and then we got to burn them down.”

Mr. Roe acknowledged Mr. Ekman’s wife Marion and his youngest son Kevin, who also grew up to become a firefighter.

“It takes a whole family to survive 40 years in this job, I’m sure,” he said, presenting them with a bouquet.

As the fire service is only partially funded through taxes, Mr. Roe and Mayor Gerry Taft praised Mr. Ekman for his volunteer work and his fundraising abilities to bring in top-of-the-line equipment.

“This community owes Roger a huge debt” for his time, effort and dedication, Mr. Taft said.

He also said he has never known a time where Mr. Ekman wasn’t the fire chief, as Mr. Ekman moved into the role when Mr. Taft was born.

Mr. Ekman told the audience he shares the accolades with his team and with the community.

Although he will be taking a holiday, he told the crew, “I’m still available if anybody needs anything.”