By Kristian Rasmussen
Two of the strongest examples of pioneering pride and community dedication in the Columbia Valley will receive a royal reward for their combined 66 years of service to their community on Monday, January 21st.
Invermere Fire Rescue chief Roger Ekman and firefighter John E. Shaw were selected to be awarded Queen Elizabeth IIs DiamondJubilee medal.
Fire chief Ekman, who was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal for exemplary leadership by example, is originally from Sweden and immigrated to the Columbia Valley in the early 1950s after his parents found work in Spillimacheen.
The family eventually moved to the Wilmer area, where Mr. Ekman grew up and joined the air force in 1967. While stationed in Ottawa, he volunteered at a local fire department and learned the trade. After completing several career postings in the air force at locations throughout Canada, he returned to the Columbia Valley in 1976 with his wife Marion.
My wife and I decided this was where we wanted to come back to, he said. It is just one of the most beautiful places to live and thats why were here.
Soon after returning, Mr. Ekman joined the fire service and became chief within four years of signing up. A career spent building a team made up of volunteers and equipment second-to-none in the province is what the fire chief is most proud of, he added.
The biggest highlight was just being able to be involved in the drastic changes to the fire service, he added. How weve progressed from where we were 35 years ago to now and what we have accomplished has just been phenomenal.
Although he has a military background, barking orders from the top down is not how Mr. Ekman earned his award and the respect of his crew.
I have always considered myself as one of the boys, he added. Just because I sit up here doesnt mean that I know everything. I am always getting input back and forth from the crew and I dont like to be an (authoritarian) because it doesnt work.
John E. Shaw, a firefighter who earned his medal by the sweat of his hard work and determination in 32 years of serving his community, originally came to the Columbia Valley from Saskatchewan in 1950 to work on a Christmas tree farm in Edgewater. Mr. Shaw has served under three of Invermeres four fire chiefs since the inception of the service in 1952.
The training was really beneficial to me for the safety aspect and what not to do when there is a fire, he added.
Mr. Shaw was part of an instrumental force of volunteers that helped to build Invermere Fire Rescue to what it is today, and he says his greatest reward in serving his community has been the wealth of knowledge that he has gained from his service.
All of us working here, we did it all ourselves, including when the building was turned over to us, he said.
Mr. Shaw credits the do-it-yourself ethos of Invermere Fire Rescue and the volunteering attitude of the valley in general with an independence that arises out of need.
The reason there are lots of volunteers in the valley is because there are a lot of things that there is no funding for.
The duo will receive their medals on January 21st at 7 p.m. at the Invermere Legion.