If there’s a fire at Hawkins Lake, Bob Campbell will be there.
He will also be on hand to offer advice on slash burning, flip burgers at the annual B.C. Day long weekend in his backyard, or organize the curling bonspiel on the frozen lake on New Year’s Day.
It’s all in a day’s work for the volunteer fire chief for the Hawkins Lake Volunteer Fire Association.
“I don’t know how long I’ve been chief but it’s been quite a while now,” said Campbell, 71, who has been involved in the fire department since it was formed in 1989. “The position was vacant for a while and somebody volunteered me to step in until found someone and I’ve been here ever since. You’re in a community and you do what you can.”
Campbell arrived in the South Cariboo in the 1970s, after he and a few buddies accepted a $75-gig one winter driving a car from one low-end lot in Ontario to another in B.C. He eventually wound up in 100 Mile House, which reminded him of rural Ontario and, while checking out the area, spotted a real estate window advertising a house in Hawkins Lake.
Forty-five years later, he’s still there, in the same house. As fire chief, he manages a team of 12 volunteer firefighters, who have been training in teams of six to maintain physical distancing during the pandemic. “If we have six call-outs a year, that’s a busy year for us,” he said. “We’re very remote and have a small population.”
That remoteness – and the fact “you know all your neighbours and they know you” – is what has kept Campbell in Hawkins Lake all these years. The community, which includes about 170 property owners in the fire district and more in the summer months, tends to be mostly retirees, who pull together to support the local area.
Indeed, when the fire department had to cancel its annual BC Day BBQ fundraiser in August due to COVID-19, the people of Hawkins Lake still pitched in to support the independent department, which relies on donations and memberships and fundraisers to stay afloat.
“A lot of people have been donating money to make up for that lost revenue,” Campbell said, noting the annual event draws a lot of participants every year. “Not only does it raise a bit of money but some people have cabins up here and say ‘I come from a place where I don’t even know my neighbour’ and now they know a lot of people … there’s a lot of little places like that out here.”
Campbell isn’t sure how long he will remain the fire chief – “I’m not that young anymore” – but knows why he has stayed in the community for so long.
“Everybody can do their own thing,” he said. “You can be as involved or as reserved as you want. There’s a good sense of community and contact with the natural world is always a draw.”