By Andrea Arnold
In January of 1980, when David Hruby and his wife Rosemary moved to McBride, he had no idea he would serve the area in a leadership role for over 40 years. Upon their arrival, the newspaper printed an article introducing them to the community. In the article was Hruby’s history and experience with firefighting. He had started as a volunteer when he was 16 years old. While in the US Navy he expanded his knowledge as part of the fire brigade on the aircraft carrier. “That is where I first learned extrication,” he said. “It’s hard to do on a plane. Few anchor spots. We had to be careful to find the posts before proceeding.”
When members of the Village learned of his experience they offered him the position of Fire Chief. “I was new to the community and the country,” said Hruby. “It was a way to continue serving.” On March 7, 1980, Hruby stepped into the role.
Coming in with a military background, Hruby had high expectations of the crew. He admits to running it with some of the structure he had grown accustomed to. Attendance at practice was expected, and so was active participation. He worked to establish a level of respect as the new captain, as well as allowing others to shine.
One of the first calls he remembers was out on Eddy Road. There was a point when the Ambulance and Fire Department had to split up at a fork in the road. While they were separated, the two groups had no way to communicate. Hruby saw this as a problem. He, along with then-Ambulance Chief Bill Arnold, took steps to establish an analog radio channel that all emergency personnel could access. RCMP, Ambulance, Fire as well as Highways all still have access to the channel. In recent years the RCMP switched to a digital system, but carried over the channel to continue the ability to communicate between the departments.
Within a few years of Hruby taking on the role, a new fire station was built. Upon the move into the new building in September of 1984, the department became a Regional Department. This broadened their coverage area and allowed them to respond to accidents along with the RCMP and Ambulance. Hruby, along with Arnold and Mike Kelly were flown by local pilot, Charlie Leake to Mackenzie to learn what they could about their Highway Rescue Unit. Upon their return, the trio used an old decommissioned ambulance, purchased for one dollar, and their newfound knowledge to outfit McBride’s first Highway Rescue Truck.
A good working relationship with the RCMP and Ambulance is something Hruby has worked at maintaining. “You have to get along with your neighbours,” said Hruby. “You never know when they will save your ass.” He is proud to be a part of one of the best working relationships between Emergency Services in the region.
Arnold recalls the feeling several years ago when he and his wife Sylvia were recipients of the teamwork, when the emergency crew had to remove the windshield to allow for Sylvia’s release after they had slid into the ditch. “When I heard the sirens, I knew we were in good hands,” said Arnold.
One of the struggles Hruby finds is the constant changing standards and requirements that departments are expected to keep up. “It used to be, you did the best with what you had,” he said. “Not anymore.” Equipment needs replacing more often and training requirements frequently change. A few examples; the First Response Engine has to be retired every 20 years, regardless of use, and individual firefighter turnout gear has increased in cost from $400-500 to $4000-$5000.
There is an upside to changes though. “With the new equipment and technology, we are able to save more than just basements now,” said Hruby. “We can save whole houses.”
Without question, Hruby’s favorite part of the last 40 years has been any call with positive closure. When someone they have rescued makes a full or mostly full recovery, and they come say thank you. “Especially when it is a local,” Dave said. “Calls to pull locals from a squished car are hard, and when you hear they are not only ok, but surpassing doctor’s expectations, you know the training you’ve put in works.”
Hruby recalls some of the training that the Emergency Services have done. Mock accidents using old vehicles gave all departments a practical learning experience. Victims crawled into the vehicle after it was smashed up. Using the extrication equipment, the Fire Department would remove car parts allowing the ambulance attendants access to do their job. They also held a mock situation in the old high school building before it was demolished. Hruby appreciated these opportunities for the crews to have hands-on training. So much so that, when it came time for his own home to be demolished to make room for a new construction, he used the opportunity for live burn training. The Valemount department was invited and they spent the day lighting and extinguishing fires in different rooms in the home and learning. On the 13th igniting, the crews stood back, at the ready if needed, but the house was allowed to burn to the ground. These public exercises have become a thing of the past with regulations tightening.
Hruby is currently working on the Robson Valley Fire Training Centre in partnership with the Valemount Department. The two story, sea-can facility will allow for practice on live burns, smoke, ventilation and patient rescue.
Hruby has many fond memories of time spent with the crew. “It’s more like a family than a department,” he said. “In fact, there have been 3 marriages between crew members in the time
I’ve been here.” This view of the group is one that Hruby doesn’t keep to himself. His longest ‘co-volunteer’ Christine Monroe offered this statement: “Dave has said many times that the department is extended family. We’ve shared major highs and saddest of lows. Many have come and gone for various reasons, but there is always that bond, shared experiences that the majority of the population will never know.”
Hruby is pleased with the decision he made 40 years ago, and if he had known what he would go through in the next 40 years, he still wouldn’t hesitate in accepting the position. “
McBride has been a good place to raise our family,” he said. “It has been a good feeling to be able to give back.”