A fresh pot of coffee has brewed and the aroma has fluttered through the large space. A man sits at a desk, alone, in an empty office working the evening away to make sure his clients are covered for tomorrow. The man looks out the window while tapping a pen on his lip, thinking about nothing and everything all at once.
As the sun is fading past the mountain a shadow throws itself like a blanket over Revelstoke, a cool chill is in the air indicating that the snow will be coming. The man checks his watch, he wipes his eyes and takes a sip of that smooth dark roast. A long evening of paperwork is upon him. Suddenly, a mini alarm goes off on the side of his hip, he looks at it, takes once big swig of the coffee and reaches for his jacket behind the chair.
The call is out. Work will stop. Hopefully, a life can be saved.
In one of the most heartfelt and touching interviews to date, lifelong resident Randy Driediger sat down with the Revelstoke Current to share his story of 15 years as a volunteer firefighter and his decision to finally hang up the helmet.
Randy joined the Revelstoke Fire Department (RFD) as a volunteer in 2002. During this time, applications were not the social norm. It was almost a club that was built on recommendation through the content of your character.
“I remember Randy Biggs asked me to join, so I put my name forward saying I would. The members would bring forth names that they felt would be good volunteers, and the group would pick. That is how the recruiting process was done in my time.”
For 15 years, Randy has been answering the call alongside his firefighting colleagues and he shared what it was he gained the most out of it all.
“An awareness to humble myself; I have never experienced as a high in emotion or as a low in emotion as I have with the fire service. Like a young kid-how excited you were to have your first girlfriend-to how depressed you were when you lost your first girlfriend. There is no greater feeling in the world that I can imagine than the thanks you get when you just saved somebody’s life, family member or property. When someone thanks you for that, it is pretty humbling. There is no worst feeling in the world, when you can’t save somebody’s life, family member or property. When you talk about the highs and lows of that particular service, the extremities of your emotions are pretty surreal.”
In this industry, the call goes out and you go out. You drop what you are doing and you immediately assume the risk of whatever is coming down the pipeline. Many situations out on the highway or in town during a fire can lead to numerous situations, some horrific, some frightening, however, others can be a positive scenario that can be cherished forever.
“It would have been 2007, an accident out on a highway, we had a bad stretch, we attended seven fatalities on the highway within seven days. One of those accidents we were lucky enough to save one of the people in the vehicle. I just remember the thanks from the family members that were there for saving their daughter and it wasn’t me in particular, it was the rescue crew.”
When tragedy strikes or a horrendous situation unfold before us, as humans we look for a commonality, a support system that will hold you when you know you are about to buckle. Many people lose their lives in these situations and many family members are there to bear witness to the loss of their loved one, and at times a firefighter is a symbol of safety and trust, and who better to hug then that.
“I have been hugged lots, at both highway rescues and fires for helping people. A lot of times, you hug people just to console them when things are not turning out the way you would like them too. That is one of the emotional highs you get from that type of work- the high you have when your child is born- this is different because they are total stranger. It’s such a sincere hug, not just someone going through the motions of thanking you and shaking your hand, it is really quite humbling.”
Randy was asked on how he processes some of the dreadful situations he has witnessed and how does it affect him. A tear-filled Randy shared one of the most gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking stories that no one should have to experience and a memory that has haunted him since.
“A few Christmases’ ago, we attended an accident out at Albert Canyon; a car and a semi-tractor. Unfortunately, when we arrived on scene the mother and the young girl were deceased. It was so horrific, when we first attended; we only thought it was the mother and the five year old daughter…when we separated the semi from the vehicle, through the extrication in the back seat of the vehicle was this two year old girl we didn’t know she was there. She was so wrapped up in the metal…we just didn’t know… we knew this person was on their way to have Christmas somewhere because they had all the presents in the car….I just thought of that family… as you can tell I still pack that around with me these days…it is something I will never forget. ”
Critical incident stress management is implemented for those in the fire service, by talking to counsellors, other members or people in the fire service. This is critical for those volunteers that witness these unimaginable stories.
“Maybe I should have talked to someone more than I did. Most of the time, you just fell back on your training. You got somewhere, you did your job and you left. The outcomes were just the outcomes. One thing that is really critical is the emotion in the truck when you are coming home and how the guys can talk to each other and humour each other as a way to de-stress from an incident. You get to know each other very well, and how to verbally talk somebody through an incident. It’s a pretty good brotherhood/sisterhood.”
Volunteering does not come without is family sacrifices. Calls come in at ungodly hours and someone has to take those calls. This could mean leaving the comfort of bed with the love of your life next to you, leaving your child’s birthday party early or missing it all together. Those that have a family member in the fire service, sacrifice in a big way.
“We have spousal appreciation night at least once a year. It is a small way for the department to say we appreciate what you give up at times when your husband, boyfriend or girlfriends are being called out in the middle of the night. It’s tough. I think as members and volunteers, we don’t thank our significant others as much as we should.”
Volunteer firefighters are out on the frontline, but negative rhetoric does flow through the streets of Revelstoke. When asked how he feels when he is made aware of negative talk when he is out risking his life at times.
“It’s tough to appreciate when you are ignorant to the work that is being done. We are lucky now that we have updated equipment but I remember making emergency responses in vehicles that are thirty years old. I don’t know anyone in town that drive their personal vehicle that would be thirty years old. It is pretty hard for me to sit back and listen to those that criticize about the age of our apparatus and equipment, when their own equipment isn’t that old and they are not using it for emergency situations.”
Randy feels that with him stepping down that the next group that is up and coming within the department, are smarter, faster, stronger and better educated than when he first began. The advice he shares is to make sure you talk about both the highs and the lows.
“It’s tough for me to remember the highpoints, but very easy for me to remember the low points. Do the critical incident stress management, talk to your peers, staff, friends or family. Keeping stuff inside will kill you.”
After 15 years, Randy is free to breathe the air, not respond to a beep or buzz on the side of his hip; he also has time to spend with his daughter, Taya.
“I would like to thank her (Taya) for allowing me all those years of volunteering, when I could have been at home being a better Dad, spending more time with her. I think she understands my nature, my personality and how I like to give to others. Most of all, I hope she is proud of her Dad and what I have done in the fire service.” Randy said with tears in his eyes as he spoke about the love of his life- his daughter.