Unlike a lot of kids his age growing up, Ken Younghusband really didn’t have much interest in becoming a firefighter.
Now, 35 years later, on the eve of his retirement, the 57-year-old Penticton native can’t imagine having dedicated his working life to any other job, particularly at the Penticton Fire Department.
“I started here in Penticton 1984 as a paid-on-call firefighter but I really didn’t want to be a firefighter until about a year before that,” said Younghusband who officially turns in his helmet next Friday at noon.
“What attracted me, to begin with, was the excitement. It was a job that was respected, and I think that was a given, but as I learned more about it, I found that we do so many different things. That’s something I really still enjoy is the variety of work.
“Probably the biggest thing for me is that no matter what I do, everyday I’m helping people in some way or another.”
But for him, there was also a very real awareness of the associated dangers.
“At the end of the day we take a lot of risks, we do our best to minimize those risks, being well-trained and being prepared as best we can, but at the end of the day it’s a risky business,” he said.
The camaraderie at the hall is another important aspect of life, as a firefighter for the captain.
“It’s like a second family. Probably there are similar occupations but not a lot that are as close as we are,” he said. “We totally depend on each other for our lives quite often and the family part often extends off shift too.”
Then there are tougher aspects of the job.
“Accidents are probably the worst. You see more trauma, it’s not comfortable for most of us for sure and fires can be bad,” said Younghusband. “Some of the ways that we deal with the bad stuff, probably the most helpful way, is that we talk among ourselves we use a lot of humour in the firehall, jest and kid each other.
“There are some really good programs in place too. Years ago we weren’t as proactive in dealing with it. You just kind of sucked it up and maybe you shouldn’t be here if you can’t deal with that kind of stuff.”
He added another difficult aspect is getting to the scene of an emergency and having to wait because of safety reasons.
“That’s probably the most difficult for us, not being able to help because we really have to resist that urge just to jump in and fix the problem because sometimes it’s not fixable right away,” he said. “As an officer the rest of the crew looks to you and if you say we do nothing that’s really hard for them, eventually we’re going to do something but that’s all we can do right now.”
The number of calls they respond to in Penticton has greatly increased over the years and there is usually at least one, often multiple calls during a typical nightshift.
So instead of sleeping, Younghusband often finds he is usually just dozing during the night.
“Especially as an officer — as a firefighter you have a few more seconds to compose your thoughts — but a captain or officer is immediately thinking about what apparatus, what route,” he said. “What I find is that the night shifts get a little bit longer as you get older. I won’t miss that.”
His favourite memory?
“Well, I really can’t think of one call,” said Younghusband after careful thought. “There’s a lot of good ones, sometimes when we rescue somebody, extricate somebody from a vehicle or using an automated external defibrillator to bring somebody back from a full arrest. It really makes me feel like I accomplished something.
“But I guess some of my best memories are with the kids, Fire Chief for a Day and that sort of thing.”
And according to his boss, fire chief Larry Watkinson, filling the boots Younghusband leaves behind is going to be no easy task.
“I’ve been here for three years now and Ken was immediately the pinnacle of what I consider a strong leader,” said Watkinson. “He really defines what today’s firefighter is required to be and defines what our character is, pride integrity, honesty commitment, strong values to support our community.
“Knowing that he was on the scene at an emergency, I have no interest in looking over his shoulder. He’s probably one of the most highly capable fire officers that I’ve ever had the privilege to work with and it’s going to be a big hole to fill but again, typical Ken, he’s taken every opportunity to make those behind him better.”
Younghusband is looking forward to the next chapter in his life, grandchildren here and on the Island will fill some of that time, the ever on-going house renovations and a spring cross-country tour are also on the agenda.
“I’m going to be looking a part-time job. I don’t know what yet, but I’ll know it when I see it,” he said. “I’m still healthy, I still enjoy my job and I think this department has never been as healthy as it is now and so it’s just a good time for me to slide out.”
Mark Brett | Reporter
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