When the Gustafsen fire started, dangerously close to the Norbord mill, Chuck LeBlanc, the president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada’s Local 9, who represent Norbord hourly staff, started receiving pictures.
“It was like, oh man, that looks really close,” he said, to a group of representatives from six local volunteer fire departments on Oct. 19.
As the fire expanded, and 108 Mile Ranch and 100 Mile House were evacuated, the union started wondering what they could do to help their 100 Mile members.
Soon LeBlanc, who is based out of Prince George, received phone calls from other locals, Local 2, in Crofton on Vancouver Island, and Local 18, a sawmill in Mackenzie. They also wanted to help the 100 Mile membership displaced by the wildfires.
“We thought we’d put together a fund first for our members,” said LeBlanc.
“When I got down here after the evacuation orders were lifted and at the general meeting suggested to the members, hey we’ve got a certain amount of money from the three locals what would you guys like to do with it?”
Instead of thinking of themselves, a member suggested donating the money to the fire departments.
“The plant chair said what about the firefighters? They are the ones who stuck it out. They were in the midst of everything that was going on. Let’s give something to them,” said LeBlanc. Realistically, he added, the money they had wouldn’t be a tremendous help to individual members.
“We thought, let’s look out for and give back to the community.”
As a result, on behalf of the union, LeBlanc gave cheques of $2,000 to six departments: Lone Butte, Interlakes, 108 Mile, Lac la Hache, Forest Grove and 100 Mile House.
“The money that we’ve collected, it will go to each of your departments. Hopefully, it will take off a wishlist item that you have and that you were not able to get to,” said LeBlanc.
On behalf of each of the departments, 100 Mile Fire Rescue chief Roger Hollander thanked LeBlanc and the local.
“We want to thank yourselves and both mills in town and recognize that they were able to help us do our jobs,” he said, at the event.
He recognized both mills for helping clear land and putting up sprinklers on their woodlots, as well as their employees for evacuating when asked without a hitch.
“It means the world to the members. At the end of the day, the firefighters and crews stuck it out at a horrendous time to look after our member’s homes and livelihoods,” LeBlanc told the Free Press.
“The membership is really grateful.”
Doug Townsend, the Interlakes Volunteer Fire Department chief, says the donation means a lot.
“Because our budgets are very restricted, this is going to purchase a brand new defibrillator. It’s a few dollars short, but basically it will help us buy a new defibrillator for our first responders,” he told the Free Press.
Dale Bachmier, a training officer for the Lone Butte Volunteer Fire Department said the money will go into their fund for a new truck.
“It’s not actually the money that’s the thing it’s the acknowledgement,” he said. “It’s a thankless job.”
He extended a thank you to the union.
“When a society like this acknowledges us and sits there and says, ‘What can we do for you? We can do this for you.’ That’s bigger than the money.”