An Elk Valley man who has expanded and unified four of the region’s volunteer fire departments has been honoured for his years of service.
Dave Boreen started as an auxiliary firefighter in Fernie nearly three decades ago and has spent the past 17 years at the helm of the Elk Valley and South Country Rural Fire and Rescue Service.
He has been recognized for his 10 years of service as full-time fire chief by the Regional District of East Kootenay board, which commended his leadership and commitment to the departments.
“I really enjoy this job, I enjoy getting out of bed every morning for it,” said Boreen.
“It’s the opportunity to help people within our community… that’s really what drives me, and developing the fire service in our South Country.
“We’ve come a long way since we started. It’s driving that, it’s developing our service, developing our new volunteers, just making the service we provide to the community better and better over time.”
Boreen has achieved that in many different ways, from introducing vehicle rescue and first responder programs to building the Elko volunteer fire service from the ground up.
The department opened in 2016 and has grown to about 18 volunteer firefighters.
“It’s been a picture of mine and a few other people to have a regional fire service here in the South Country,” said Boreen.
“Because volunteer recruitment and retention is a problem, one lone community in the south can’t defend itself with the numbers we have now.
“With the three fire departments so close together, it’s more of a regional department… and we can rely on them to attend incidents in each other communities.”
That was the case when a blaze broke out at a Jaffray home earlier this month.
Three departments and more than 20 firefighters worked together to contain the fire, but were unable to save the property, which was a Calgary couple’s retirement home.
“If it was just Jaffray alone, we might have been lucky to have 10 people there fighting that same fire and it would have been a lot more difficult for the guys,” said Boreen.
“That’s one of the big things that I really like about what we’ve done with this fire service in the South Country.”
Boreen was five-years-old when his family moved to the Valley from Saskatchewan in 1970 and he continues to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle the area offers, spending his summers camping and golfing, and curling during the winter.
At 25, he joined the fire service and spent nine years as an auxiliary firefighter in Fernie, leading his vehicle rescue team to victory in the 1998 Can-Am Police Fire Games in Regina before being promoted to fire chief and relocating to the Jaffray department.
“I just had a sense for it growing up,” he said.
Boreen has worked both on the frontline and behind the scenes during many major emergencies in the Valley.
More than once he has been seconded to the fire commissioner’s office to assist with the response to wildfires ravaging the province.
Boreen admits the work can take emotional toll on him and his volunteers.
“It’s tough to deal with those but we have a good support mechanism here,” he said.
“We use the Elk Valley Critical Incident Response Team out of Fernie. When we have large or critical events like that we bring those folks in and we debrief.
“Then it’s just the internal network that we have with the guys, everybody talks to each other.
“There are a lot of things that you would like to ‘unsee’ for sure, but they’re always there.”
As well as responding to incidents, Boreen looks after the administration and training of more than 50 volunteer firefighters across the four departments in Jaffray, Baynes Lake, Elko and Hosmer.
Collectively, the departments respond to more than 200 incidents a year.
Boreen said his greatest challenge as fire chief was recruiting and retaining volunteers, which he put down to the growing training demands of the role.
He hopes a new benefits package introduced this year will help to attract more people to the service.
“It’s more responsibility, it’s more time, so it’s tough, but at the end of the day it keeps everybody safe and makes sure that they go home at the end of the day,” he said.