All of the 33 Hay River Fire Department volunteer firefighters were honoured at their 53rd annual ball celebrating 61 years of service the night of Dec. 4. The Hay River Legion was transformed with light and colour for the festive gala. Members of the department donned their uniforms throughout the evening as they sat and listened in appreciation, to thanks relayed from their peers and political figures.
But one firefighter received the highest credit of the year. Going on two years of service, Sara Conley was bestowed the Firefighter of the Year award for her hard work, dedication, presence and support of the department and her fellow members.
Conley clocked 320 volunteer hours this year, almost double the average time. She joined the department in May 2010.
“I’m really lucky because I work shift and it’s something I can fit into my schedule, but it’s something I love to do so I find it an easy thing to work into my life,” said Conley. “Hay River has given me opportunities I would never have had at home and I really feel I should give that back.”
Ordered to keep it short by emcee and deputy fire chief Vince McKay, most addresses were short and to the point. HRFD Chief Ross Potter staunchly disobeyed orders, but every note of thanks was heartfelt and not without its place.
Along with the very active and dedicated members of HRFD, of whom Potter heavily relies on, he thanked their employers.
“Time after time they allow their employees to leave their posts showing their total support to the community,” said Potter.
Although it’s been a busy year for the department, Potter thanks prevention initiatives for a decrease in fire calls. Eleven firefighters were recruited this year of which nine remain.
Also honoured was McKay who has served 17.33 years, Kyle Wright who recently became captain, along with Captains Wyatt Scheller and Brent Medernach for overseeing training. Potter himself has served the longest at 28 years and now as the town’s first full-time dedicated fire chief.
Since January 2011, the department has responded to 296 emergency calls, attended to 71 training events and volunteer hours averaged 127 hours per member.
MLA’s for Hay River North and South Robert Bouchard and Jane Groenewegen as well as Mayor Kelly Schofield all rose to say a few words to the members of the department.
“The other night we had an RCMP appreciation night,” said Groenewegen. “I like to think of this night every year as the fire department’s appreciation night.”
“You make sacrifices for Hay River and I thank you for that,” said Schofield. “You put your lives at risk time after time and you do this as volunteers. It’s because of you that we all sleep easier at night.”