Invermere fire chief, firefighter honoured

Two longtime members of Invermere Fire Rescue next to receive Diamond Jubilee Medal.

It comes as a great surprise to two Invermere residents that they have been selected as recipients of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, bringing the valley’s total up to seven.

Invermere Fire Rescue fire chief Roger Ekman will receive the medal for exemplary leadership by example and Invermere Fire Rescue firefighter John Shaw will be receiving the medal for 32 years of service to his community.

Both men will be honoured at a special awards ceremony on Monday (January 21) at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch in Invermere when District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft will present them with their medals.

“It was a big surprise to me,” Ekman told The Valley Echo.

In 1950, Ekman moved to the valley with his parents from Vancouver Island’s Alert Bay as a child. After growing up in Invermere, he joined the military in 1967 and spent the next ten years in ground communications in the air force, transferring several times between Quebec, Ontario and Manitob, but never overseas.

His decision to leave the airforce after a decade of service brought Ekman back to Invermere where he went to work for his father’s heavy duty mechanic shop before getting hired on by the Ministry of Transportation as a heavy duty mechanic, a position he worked for 28 years until retirement.

In the spring of 1978 he started with the Invermere Fire Departmnet as a volunteer firefighter. In 1983, he became the volunteer chief and has been the department’s fire chief ever since. It was only last year that he finally came on as a full-time salaried employee.

Ekman said he is proud of what the Invermere Fire Rescue has accomplished since he first joined.

“We’ve got a really super crew,” he said. “The changes in the training have just been phenomenal.”

Bringing the fire department up to standard has meant diversifying the training to include a road rescue program, confined space entry and building collapse.

“It feels great,” Ekman said about getting recognized for his contributions to the fire department. “It’s quite an honour.”

At 81, firefighter John Shaw is the oldest member on the Invermere Fire Rescue squad, hence his nickname of ‘Grampa John’ among younger members of the crew.

When Shaw learned he had been chosen to receive a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, “I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Orignally from Saskatchewan, Shaw came to the Columbia Valley in 1950 to take advantage of the local Christmas tree industry, and decided he liked the area so much he would stay.

In 1957, he took a maintenance job with the hospital, which he worked until retirement. His formal involvement with the fire department began in 1981 although prior to that he had spent a few years with the department before Westside joined Invermere.

“I was asked to join again because I knew all the water lines of Westside, where I was living,” said Shaw. “We had no fire hydrants out there and when it joined Invermere, we installed them.”

As well as having served as a volunteer fire-fighter for 32 years, Shaw has endlessly contributed his maintenance expertise to the fire department in countless ways. His ingenius knack for fixing anything and everything was instrumental in renovating Invermere’s current fire hall when it was acquired over a decade ago.

Shaw acknowledges his skills have benefited the firehall but he sees the fire training he’s received as the biggest benefit of all.

Although he’s retired from going out on the trucks, preferring instead to looking after the firehall’s paint recycling program, Shaw said he’ll “still go out in a pinch.”

And now that he is a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal recipient, he can finally even an old score. Shaw and his twin sister were born on Queen Victoria’s birthday, and his sister was given Victoria as her middle name in the queen’s memory, which Shaw felt slighted by — until now.

“I phoned my twin sister and told her I was getting this award and she said, ‘I’m way ahead ya!’ ‘’ Shaw joked.

The awards ceremony on the 21st will follow dinner, which will begin at 7 p.m.

The Legion is located at 525-13th Avenue in downtown Invermere.