Firefighters - Like father, like son

Looking into the history of Kamloops Fire and Rescue, one would be hard pressed not to find a member of either the McKinnon or Campbell clan among the ranks.

"There's been a member of our family in the fire department since its inception in the late 1884," said Les McKinnon.

McKinnon was head of fire prevention when he retired a year ago after 31 years in the service. His son, Joe McKinnon, joined seven years ago. He said that was a proud moment.

"I was excited he was going to try out," said McKinnon. "I thought it was great. It's such a great job."

The first chief pictured on the wall of fire chiefs, James Blair, is the great grandfather of McKinnon and retired fire chief Don Campbell. Campbell's mother is McKinnon's dad's sister.

Campbell, who was fire chief from 1985 to 1995, said Blair was chief in 1892 and the fourth chief in the department. The family history within Kamloops Fire and Rescue is what inspired Campbell and McKinnon to continue that legacy and, ultimately, it's why sons Neil (Campbell) and Joe continued that tradition.

Campbell joined when North and South Kamloops amalgamated in 1963, but he had been a volunteer first.

"My father was on the department and my grandfather was on the department. It was something that I felt I should do," he said, adding he had worked in construction prior and wanted a steady paying job.

In order to apply, Campbell had to write and pass an exam. All his training was on the job. When Neil joined in 1995 he needed a Class 3 driver's licence, his dogwood diploma and knowledge of industrial first aid. And those requirements have since increased.

"It's much more difficult to get hired nowadays," said Neil. "The bar for education, experience and certification in so many areas has been raised."

Neil, now a captain, was in his mid-20s when he was accepted into the service. But he visited his dad on the job several times, got to know the other firefighters and wore the hat and heavy jackets.

"It had been around me all my life," he said, adding such visits are common for firefighters' sons and daughters.

Neither Neil nor Joe felt pushed to follow their fathers into the fire department. But the men said their dads were glad they did.

McKinnon didn't talk about the job a lot, but Joe would listen when calls came through his dad's pager and catch details about where the older McKinnon was going.

"It was a job I really thought I would enjoy," said Joe.

Joe has two boys aged 11 and 7. He said they have already expressed an interest in continuing the family legacy but, like his dad was with him, he would never ask that of them.

"If they were interested, I would be excited for them," he said. "I was always proud that my dad was a firefighter."

Neil and Joe are glad to be carrying on a tradition that extends through at least three generations. Fire Chief Neill Moroz said stories like the Campbells and McKinnons can be found in long-standing fire departments around the globe.

He said the camaraderie among firefighters is infectious and easily passed from generation to generation.

"It gets into our systems and into our families and becomes a part of our life," said Moroz. "It's a great legacy. It's a great history to have."

Moroz's son, Derek, became a firefighter last year. And there are several others in Fire and Rescue who are continuing the same tradition.

Jim Gorman followed in the footsteps of his dad, Gerry Gorman, when he joined the fire service in 1995. Gorman, who retired as a captain in 2004, was a firefighter for 29 years.

Like Neil and Joe, Jim grew up visiting the fire hall with his dad. He said his dad enjoyed his job and always had an exciting story to tell.

He said the shift work afforded his dad a lot of time to spend with his family. And Jim likes that now that he has a family of his own.

"The whole atmosphere appealed to me," said Jim. "It's a good job. It's different every day."

jhewlett@kamloopsnews.ca

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