Final bell sounds for Naramata fire chief

Grahame Baker is hanging up his hose after 16 years of service as the fire chief with the Naramata Volunteer Fire Department.

Former chief Grahame Baker of the Naramata Volunteer Fire Department crowns his replacement Wil McCutcheon with the official chief’s helmet at the station this week. Baker is stepping down from the position he held for 16 of the last 24 years he served with the department.

Grahame Baker is hanging up his hose after 16 years of service as the fire chief with the Naramata Volunteer Fire Department.

“When I look back over the years, I would do it all over again,” said Baker, who has been a volunteer firefighter in Naramata for 24 years. “It will be nice not having to get up at 2 a.m. because the phone is ringing though. There have been good moments and bad moments but at the end of the day I think I did a good job. But I didn’t do it alone, there has been a lot of good people helping.”

It was by chance that Baker ended up in Naramata. Working for the U.K. government as a mechanic, he decided he wanted to come to Canada and live in B.C.

“It was amazing the way we did it. We got a pin, waved it around and it landed on Penticton actually. We did an economic profile of jobs in the area — Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton — and we moved to Penticton because I got a job at Penticton Honda right away as I worked for Honda previously. We lived there for two weeks and moved out to Naramata right away and it all went from there,” said Baker.

The fire chief said 2003 marked a year that tested the volunteer department. The Okanagan Mountain fire was ravaging its way across from Kelowna.

“That fire was heading towards Naramata and we were on that around the clock for eight weeks. It was a huge organized effort, we had fire departments from B.C. and Alberta working under our command,” Baker recalled. “But we met lots of people and made some good friends out of it.”

The Naramata Volunteer Fire Department became a regional district service in 1995. Since that time Baker has successfully occupied the position of fire chief of the department. During his time he helped bring in new technologies and equipment and pushed for the new fire hall location.

After Baker decided to retire, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen undertook a formal hiring competition. On Thursday, the regional district board of directors appointed Wil McCutcheon as the new fire chief for the Naramata Volunteer Fire Department. McCutcheon has been volunteering with the Naramata department for the past six years, before that he was on-call with the Abbotsford Auxiliary. With experience with air search and rescue, St. John’s Ambulance, as a private pilot using radio communication and holding a rescue diving ticket he was a perfect fit for the fire chief job.

McCutcheon said he would like to open up the fire hall to the public more and make public education a priority.

“One of the big trends I have noticed in all fire departments is they are not so much just firefighting as they are about prevention. Houses are being built quite differently these days and are more likely to stand up to fire. Our role is still with firefighting but I like the whole idea about educating the public with an emphasis on health and rescue,” said McCutcheon.

He wants to open the doors of the fire hall and allow the public to see what actually goes into fighting fires and the people behind it.

“A lot of people don’t know what goes on. You bring them to the hall and they see all the trucks and equipment and they get a feel for what the volunteers do and the hall isn’t that unknown question mark on the hill. I want to get away from the stereotypes that fire halls have and bring more of a family atmosphere to things.”

McCutcheon said very often the volunteers are single dads and moms who would have to bring their kids on a call with them.

“If this person wants to get on the truck they can’t up and leave. I want to look into how we can facilitate for these people a little bit more. I am an out-of-the-box thinker and can be a bit creative,” said McCutcheon.