Rick Suckling has put a lot of years into the Kaleden Volunteer Fire Department – 28 years, as a matter of fact.
The veteran firefighter retired this month, leaving a huge hole in the department’s roster, one that Chief Darlene Bailey said is going to be difficult to fill.
“We’re entering new territory, in our upcoming budget deliberations,” said Chief Bailey.
“As far as truck maintenance goes, we have yet to understand what a realistic budget for us should be.”
That’s because Suckling, besides providing steady, continuous service to the community as a firefighter, (which included at least 20 years as an officer, several as Assistant Chief) also acted as in-house mechanic for most of the department’s motorized and electrical stock.
“We recently calculated that the costs just for routine annual maintenance of our fire trucks will now be in the order of $3,500,” said Chief Bailey.
“Up until now, we just paid for parts, because Rick did all the work.”
Suckling is also a veteran of 52 years as an electrician with AC Motor Electric Ltd. in Penticton. There are probably few people in the region who know more about electric motors and pumps than Suckling. Combined with his willingness to donate time and knowledge to the community, his association with the Kaleden Fire Department proved to be a perfect fit.
“I like it,” Suckling said of his years on the department, “it was fun – it still is fun. I enjoy the challenge of getting things to work.
A lot of people don’t like troubleshooting, but I do.”
For years, Suckling could be found at the fire hall for four or five hours Sunday mornings, providing weekly maintenance on the department’s trucks and peripheral equipment. There was also the odd emergency over the years, where he could be found at the firehall in the early hours of the morning, should a sudden emergency require it.
“There was an issue with our mini-pumper in 2000, where Rick was up here at 2 a.m. reinstalling a pump in the unit,” said Bailey. “We had several issues with the mini-pumper, including a major rewiring that had to be done. Rick looked after all that.”
“I looked after just about everything in the hall that didn’t require a certified sign off,” Suckling explained, “problems with things like brakes and steering went to the shop.”
Over the years, Suckling has seen a number of changes to hall operations.
“We’ve continually upgraded to newer and better equipment,” he said, “there is better training today, and more of it.” Suckling has also seen the nature of emergency responses change from grass and structure fires 30 years ago to first responder and motor vehicle accidents. His experience as a firefighter and easygoing manner made him one of the “go to” veterans that newer members could rely on for assistance during emergency incidents.
Suckling provided a great deal of technical knowledge when it came to making purchasing decisions for the department’s fire trucks, making several trips over the years to places like the Lower Mainland and Edmonton to inspect and deliver vehicles ordered by the department.
He was also on hand to maintain the hall itself over the years.
“It didn’t need to be plugged in for him to fix it,” Bailey said.
“He often brought his own tools to the hall, if we didn’t have what he needed here.”
Suckling will be relocating to Parksville on Vancouver Isand later this month, along with wife Donna. Over the years, she has continuously supported his work at the firehall, in addition to supporting the department in her own way by providing food to firefighters stranded at an incident for long periods of time.
“I’m going to hang up my fireman’s hat and go fishing instead,” Suckling said, “I wish I could stay, but my body is getting too old – if it wasn’t I’d be here ‘til I was 90.” Suckling had knee replacement surgery two years ago, and is finding the rigours of the job increasingly difficult.
The KVFD will be making budget decisions later this month for 2014, and it appears that Suckling’s departure will have an effect on the bottom line.
“We’re looking at the truck maintenance budget increasing from $6,000 to $9,000,” Bailey said.
“We’re trying to get Rick’s new phone number before he leaves,” she laughed. “He’s leaving some big boots to fill.”
“I think I’ve gotten more out of this place than I put in,” Suckling concluded modestly.
“I learned a lot about firefighting, met a great group of people – you get out of it what you put in.”