Career fireman says goodbye

When he first started in firefighting, the Penticton deputy chief remembers hanging off the back of speeding firetruck in a snow storm.

Deputy fire chief Dave Spalding of Penticton Fire Rescue is retiring in February after more than 30 years service.

Deputy fire chief Dave Spalding of Penticton Fire Rescue is retiring in February after more than 30 years service.

How things have changed.

When he first started in the firefighting business, Penticton deputy chief Dave Spalding remembers hanging off the back of speeding firetruck in a snow storm.

“I was in Salmon Arm, you’d get to the hall and grab your turnout pants and boots and put them on the tailboard, grab your jacket and put one arm through the sleeve, jump on the back and dress as you’re driving down the road,” said Spalding, who is retiring next month after more than 30 years. “One time I remember the snow swirling up behind the fire truck, my gear was getting full, so you’re cold and wet because you’ve got these ice cubes of snow inside your pants. You learn quickly that’s not a good thing to do.”

Joining the Salmon Arm department at age 19, Spalding said firefighting was something he always wanted to do.

“When I was five years old I said I want to become a fireman and I never shook it. Now I’ve just lived the dream for 35 years,” he said. “It was exciting, specially when you can see the columns of smoke and you’re out there on the back of the firetruck with the sirens going and people are watching you and blowing horns, yeah, it was pretty exhilarating.

“You go into it for the fun, the excitement, the thrill, for the achievement. You go into to help people, to preserve life and property.”

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And the “fun” continued when he moved to Penticton in 1984 as an auxiliary, even though the government had outlawed firefighters on the backs of the truck.

“Living in the dorms with the guys was fantastic. There were eight of us at the great big dormitory at number one hall,” said Spalding. “Friday night we would play pool and shuffleboard and at that time there was a bar and we could have a beer. We’d have barbecues and pool tournaments watch movies, drink a few beers and then go downtown. It was a blast. Things have changed a bit, alcohol is not in the hall anymore which is a good thing. It was time, it needed to go.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the camaraderie.

“The live ins with guys at the hall in ’84 ’85; some of those guys I’ve known since they were 22 years old and so we’ve kind of grown up together, grown old together, had families, and seen an awful lot of firefighting,” he said. “It’s like a family, we all work together as a team, we see some pretty horrific things and you build some pretty strong bonds when you’re depending on that guy beside you for your survival.”

Another positive change is the attention to critical stress management.

“Back then you just sort of sucked it up and you just carried on, nobody really showed any emotion,” said Spalding. “I guess I did the same as everybody else. We’d talk about it amongst ourselves, go out and have a couple of beers and drown our sorrows that way.”

Shortly after becoming a career member in 1988, Spalding married wife Lisa, a registered nurse who he credits for helping him through the tough times.

“My home support system was pretty fantastic,” he said.

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The availability of professional support for firefighters became even more important when the department took on the responsibility as first responders for any type of emergency, including vehicle accidents.

“It was a pretty big impact, our call volume increased three times,” said Spalding. “Now, at night the downtime or rest is maybe three hours but you get used to it, the alarm goes off and you’re instantly up putting on your gear and walking to the truck before your brain is even awake, it’s more muscle memory.

“But it’s getting back to sleep, if you go to a motor vehicle accident or are performing CPR, when you lay down you can’t turn your brain off, you’ve got all these pictures in your head.”

But the rewards of the job make it all worthwhile.

“Being able to help people is what it is about,” he said. “And when you walk down the street in the Peachfest parade and all the people are clapping for you and cheering and thanking you and it’s pretty great.”

While paddle boarding and cycling are on Spalding’s upcoming agenda, he plans to do some consulting and training work for the department in the future.