Revered firefighter Ted Eeftink proudly displays the two medals and plaques he received from the province and the Governor General of Canada honouring his longtime commitment to the Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade. (Andrew Bailey photo)

Longtime Ucluelet firefighter honoured

“I was shocked to receive it,” Ted Eeftink told the Westerly News.

A cherished, lifelong Ucluetian capped off 2019 being draped in well-deserved accolades.

Ted Eeftink was presented with two distinct honours related to his long-standing commitment to serving his community through the Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade during the brigade’s year-end gala.

Eeftink was recognized both provincially and nationally for putting over 25 years of dedication into firefighting, receiving a Long Service Medal and plaque from the province and a national service award from the Governor General of Canada.

“I was shocked to receive it,” Eeftink told the Westerly News. “It was very fulfilling. Knowing that somebody recognized how many years I’d been involved was pretty moving. It was really good.”

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He added that he never expected acclaim for the time he put in.

“When I took on the position as the chief, I always told them, ‘I don’t really want anything for doing it.’ I just wanted to be part of the brigade and help support what was happening. I didn’t want to see the brigade fold up, because that’s the point it was at back then when I took over the chief’s position,” he said.

Eeftink was born and raised in Ucluelet and was working in the logging industry alongside the town’s then fire chief Keith Martin, who encouraged him to join the brigade in 1992.

“That was back in the days when things were a little more easy going. You just joined and you were a member, you got your turnout gear and you showed up for a call,” he said, adding he signed up because he wanted to give back to the community.

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When Martin retired in 2009, Eeftink said he was reluctant to take on the larger, more time consuming, responsibility, but decided to take a crack at filling Martin’s boots.

“I came home and talked to my wife and she said, ‘You should step up and take that position,’” he said. “So, I said I’ll try the position for six months to see how things go and it ended up being almost 10 years.”

About two years into his tenure as chief, while still maneuvering through a heavy learning curve, Eeftink said the brigade found itself in a state of flux because new National Fire Protection Association training standards began demanding a larger time commitment than many were willing to put in.

“In that aspect, we lost a lot of members,” he said, estimating the brigade’s roster dropped from 22 down to 12. “Slowly, we did some recruitment and let people know what we were looking for and people started to step up, which was great. But, it was pretty stressful on my end for quite a while because, in the summertime, there might be only two members on duty because that’s all we had.”

He said comradery within the brigade began to build as members bought into the benefits of the more rigorous training regimen.

“Between myself and deputy chief [Mark] Fortune, we had to do a lot of changes to try to make things better for people coming in and for the members that were there to assure them that the training was going to be much better for them,” he said. “It was proper training that we were doing. It wasn’t just something that was off the cuff. So, a lot of people went, ‘Wow, this is a really good department, they’re really paying attention to the training aspect of it’ and that just started the ball rolling and guys started volunteering, which was awesome.”

READ MORE: Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade basking in local support

He added that he consistently felt supported by the community.

“They were always behind us,” he said. “Same with council. Whenever I needed something, there was always support behind that. The community has always been behind us 100 per cent,” he said. “They really feel that we’re there to look after them.”

After a decade spent successfully steering the brigade and smoothing out an initially rough transition, Eeftink was happy to hand the reins over to Ucluelet’s first full-time paid fire chief Rick Geddes in 2019.

READ MORE: Ucluelet hires first full-time fire chief

Eeftink noted that, during his time as chief, he was also running a busy kayaking business with his wife Tracy and said he and Ucluelet’s former environmental and emergency services manager Karla Robison lobbied passionately for a full-time paid position to be created.

“Hiring the full-time chief was the icing on the cake for sure,” he said. “Having Chief Geddes there now, he’s really focused on what we need as a brigade. He’s looking at the overall big picture of everything and that’s what we needed…It’s just going to make this whole brigade run so smooth and look so professional; it’s going to be great.”

READ MORE: Ucluelet Volunteer Fire Brigade welcomes new Chief

Eeftink remains on the brigade as a volunteer firefighter and said he has no plans on leaving anytime soon.

“I feel a lot of pride in what we’ve done and come through and where we’re at now. It’s awesome,” he said

“I didn’t realize I’d stay this long. I just feel that comradery and I just want to make sure the brigade moves along. We have a really good bunch of guys working there. The feeling I have, I just don’t want to leave. I’ll be there until I’m not capable of doing anything. I want to support them for as long as I possibly can.”

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