Fanning the flames of two decades of volunteer firefighting For the past two decades Jim Crichton has been at just about every fire in the Whistler Valley. House fires, chimney fires, roof fires, grass fires, squat fires, condo fires — just about anything that has burned in Whistler has done so under Crichton's watchful eye. No, Crichton is not an arsonist, he is Whistler's longest standing volunteer firefighter, and with 21 years of fighting fires under his belt Crichton has seen it all. "I was on the Alta Lake Fire Department before the municipality was formed and when they created the Whistler Fire Department I kind of just stayed on," he says in his crisp Scottish brogue. At a trim 55, Crichton looks like he could spend the next 20 years fighting fires. A long-time Whistler carpenter, Crichton immigrated to Whistler from Scotland after coming here for a vacation in 1974. He had chummed around Europe and Asia with longtime local Jim Scribner and was lured to the West Coast at Scribner's urging. A lot has changed in the 20-plus years since Crichton relocated to Whistler — the taxes on the house he built in Alpine Meadows used to be $154 a year, they are now over $3,000. He still lives in the same house with his wife Simone, daughter Simone and son Shawn. The family cat Meike seems to like it there too. The Alta Lake Fire Department was a loosely-knit volunteer group with a lot of gumption and little expertise, while the Whistler Fire Department is now renowned as one of the best in North America. "In those early days the fires we went to fight were our training," he says. They also trained shortly after the Resort Municipality of Whistler was formed when the B.C. government decided the squats dotting the banks of Fitzsimmons Creek were not part of the resort image it wanted to promote — so government officials ordered the squats torched. "I remember when Andy Munster's place was burnt. He rigged up a rope with a pail full of gas and lit the thing off himself," Crichton recalls. "We did some training exercises and then we had a beer… it turned out to be quite a party." Volunteers now take part in weekly training sessions with the full-time, professional firefighters. Crichton, now a captain in the department, has spent two weeks at the B.C. Justice Institute learning modern firefighting technique and theory. Although Crichton has fought "hundreds" of fires in Whistler, he says the two biggest were the loss of the Rainbow Lodge in 1976 and the Christmas fire at The Keg in the early ’80s. Firefighters are now summoned to fires by high-tech means such as pagers and radios, but when a fire broke out before 1975, someone would call the dispatcher, who would call one of the firefighters. While he was rushing to get to the fire, someone in the house had the job of calling the next firefighter on the list, and so on down the line. With the advent of technology, getting firefighters to a fire has become easier and, according to Crichton, the art of fighting fires has become "more interesting." "There seems to be a lot less fires now, though," he says, adding being able to drive around in his van with a Whistler Fire Department sign under his licence plate instills a sense of pride in him. "I love it," he says. "I'm going to keep fighting fires until they tell me to stop."

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