Duane Bell stepped into the New Year on inspired footing as the popular longtime West Coaster was named Tofino’s 2019 Volunteer Firefighter of the Year.
“He’s been giving back to this community for so many years. He exemplifies volunteerism and in a town where everyone is extremely busy and works really, really, hard he has found a way to donate countless hours of time and energy,” Tofino fire chief Brent Baker told the Westerly News. “He’s a highly respected member. He’s super positive, he has a lot to contribute and things wouldn’t be the same at the fire department without him around.”
Baker said Bell is an integral prong within the department’s strong camaraderie and touted his efforts to ensure others feel appreciated and respected.
“He is probably one of the most kind, generous, giving individuals that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with,” he said. “Both in the fire department and around the community, he is very well loved and he deserves everything good that he gets.”
During Tofino’s Dec. 11 council meeting, mayor Josie Osborne congratulated Bell and noted that his peers within the department voted for him to be the recipient.
“Duane’s efforts are really appreciated,” she said.
Bell was presented with the award at the department’s annual year-end gala and his name will now forever be cemented on a plaque that includes the names of every firefighter to receive the distinction since 1983.
“Everybody votes for different reasons and that’s one of the things that makes it really special. You really don’t know how each member is going to cast their vote, so it’s always a surprise and it’s a really exciting time for me to be able to call out that name. It’s excellent,” Baker said. “Everybody works really hard here and everybody gives so much constantly and will forever be remembered, but having your name on this plaque further cements that member’s place in the history of the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department. So, it’s a very special opportunity for those who receive it.”
Bell told the Westerly he was honoured to hear his name called out after the votes were counted.
“It was obviously very honouring and humbling. It was a pretty special moment in my life,” he said. “It definitely goes to the top shelf for sure.”
Bell has served the department for roughly 20 years and said he has no plans of slowing down his commitment to his community.
“I’m going to go as long as I can,” he said. “Giving back to Tofino is my number one reason. It’s just an amazing group of guys and girls in town and everybody is very dedicated…Brent Baker takes it to another level. We couldn’t ask for a better chief. It’s such a great group of people.”
He added that he’s been inspired to see the department’s philanthropic efforts increase over the years, further strengthening its relationship with the West Coast.
“The camaraderie amongst us and also amongst the community, including Ucluelet, is definitely pretty special,” he said.
Along with the plaque and accolades, Tofino’s Firefighter of the Year also traditionally receives a gift made from metal taken from the town’s first fire truck. Last year’s recipient Aaron Rodgers chose a chef’s knife while Bell took a more ceremonial route, opting for a hatchet to hang on his wall.
“I’m sure every time I come in and take a gander at it, it will put a little grin on my face. It’s a very positive checkmark on my life and it will always be that way, so it’s nice to have that memento on the wall and something that’s not only recognized in town, but within myself. It’s just been a very inspiring time,” he said. “It adds a little feather in your cap on the bucket list of life.”