Bob Sparreboom only intended to be with 100 Mile House Fire Rescue for five years.
He joined on a whim, thinking it would be a good learning experience and a way to give back to the community. Now, 25 years later, he is still there, as the department’s on-call paid deputy fire chief - a role he took on 10 years ago.
“When I joined it, it was great,” said Sparreboom, who moved to 100 Mile House in 1995 to run the 100 Mile Laundromat. “There were probably about 35 guys who did a once-a-week practice and responded to the calls all the time. It was a good group of guys who wanted to serve the community and do a good job when we got out.”
Last month Sparreboom received an award recognizing his 25 years of service. Fire chief Roger Hollander said it’s unusual these days to have firefighters stay at one hall for that long.
“Bob has been a major part of our training section in the early days and has provided thousands of hours of volunteer time,” Hollander said. “He continues to respond to public emergency calls as a chief officer and his experience on the fire ground is respected and appreciated by all of us.”
Sparreboom, who now works for School District 74 in Ashcroft, said he has seen a lot of changes over the years. In the beginning of his tenure, he was kept busy learning how to drive the fire truck, pump water, and proper firefighting techniques and safety.
Before they got their training centre on Exeter Station Road in 2004, they would go to Williams Lake and Kamloops for their training. Being able to do it in-house has been a big improvement, he said. Over the years, the department’s equipment and training standards have also become better.
He is amazed at how fast the years have gone, noting there have been a lot of ups and downs during that time. He recalls how one of their fire chiefs, Bob Patterson, was killed in the line of duty during a fire truck accident in 1997, and when the 100 Mile fire hall burned down in the early 2000s.
Their workload has also changed from those early days, he said. “Now we do firefighting, medical calls and wildfire fighting. There’s been a lot of changes and a lot of growth.”
As part of his job, Sparreboom takes a lead in training the 100 Mile firefighters, most of whom are younger, partly due to the department’s high turnover rate. His son Cole, who practically grew up around the hall, joined five years ago.
“He’s progressing well, doing a huge amount of training and making his way up the ladder,” Sparreboom said. “It makes me proud, not too many halls have a father-son duo in one hall. It’s kind of cool.”
Besides training, Sparreboom is also in charge of incident command during response calls. At the scene of a fire or accident, for instance, he will direct the department’s strategy and is responsible for his team’s safety.
“It’s different because you’re not on the frontlines in the fire but it’s way more responsibility because you’re in charge of the scene and all your members on that scene,” he said. “You’re accountable for all of them.”
“Serving the community is just something I like to do,” he said. “Now I’m a mentor to the younger firefighters and I show them the ropes.”
Sparreboom said anyone looking to help out their community should consider joining the fire hall this month. While it can be time-consuming with the number of calls they respond to, the chance to help others out makes it all worth it.
“It’s very satisfying. Like we say at the hall we’re not in it for the money, we’re not in it for the glory. You’re helping a person out with a bad day and if there’s a good outcome that’s great.”