Zinkevich praises firefighters 

Home could have been destroyed but Whistler Fire Rescue contained blaze to bedroom

A lucky longtime resident wants Whistler to know that its tax dollars are well spent on its firefighters.

Ed Zinkevich, a Whistler homeowner since 1986 and a resident since 1993, had a fire break out in his three-storey home in Alpine Meadows on Dec. 16, destroying a bedroom in a blaze hot enough to melt a TV.

But that was pretty much the extent of the damage and "Fast Eddie," as he's been known around the community, can't help but heap praise upon Whistler firefighters.

"One thing Whistler taxpayers can be proud of is fire rescue," he said in an interview. "(The fire) could have destroyed the house enough that I would have no place to live.

"I am so proud of our firefighters and response team."

Though he's only owned the home since 1986, Zinkevich has a love for Whistler that spans decades. Formerly an administrator at Vancouver's South Granville Park Lodge, an upscale long-term care facility for seniors, he and wife Carol Long spent every weekend in Whistler from the 1970s onward. For 10 years they saw Whistler as a weekend sanctuary from the city.

"In 1975, sitting at Dusty's, everyone knew me," he said.

Now retired to his weekend paradise, Zinkevich took up work as a validator with Whistler Blackcomb, earning the nickname "Fast Eddie." He also became known as the "Singing Validator," belting out "Good morning to you" to skiers as they ascended the mountain.

"It's no fun standing there validating passes," he said. "It's not bad if the sun is shining but if it's snowing or windy it's got its moments."

He came to occupy an important place within the community, developing a passion to protect Whistler's bear population.

Zinkevich pushed for more signs in the community to keep people informed about how to deal with the community's ursine neighbours as well as an investigation into the Conservation Officer Service's policy of killing bears if they enter homes.

He also did some fundraising to help ensure the care of Candy, a bear cub who was found wandering the streets of Squamish after getting stuck in a waste bin in Whistler and taking an involuntary ride down the highway in a garbage truck.

Abandoned and malnourished, Candy spent six months recuperating at Critter Care Wildlife Society, an animal rehabilitation centre in the Fraser Valley and Zinkevich helped ensure she got the best possible care.

Now 70 years old, like many Whistlerites he's concerned about how taxes are being spent by the municipality on projects like paving the day skier lots and Lot 1/9.

But he said there's one place that Whistler's tax dollars are being spent well: its fire rescue squad.

Whistler Fire Rescue was notified of the fire at about 8 a.m. on Dec. 16. They arrived at Zinkevich's house on Meadow Lane to find smoke billowing out of a third-floor window.

The fire crew on site immediately initiated a fire attack, but didn't turn on the hoses right away. They entered the room on the third floor to find the fire lodged inside the mattress of a Slumber Magic bed. Firefighters threw the mattress out the window, removed First Nations art from the walls worth $12,000 and moved china cabinets out of the way. They even removed a toilet to prevent water damage.

By 10:30 a.m. the firefighters had finished their work and save for a damaged room and some burns in the hallway, Zinkevich's house was saved.

"The guys know they need to use an appropriate amount of water for a given situation," said Whistler Fire Chief Rob Whitton. "We use the water as we need for the job and try to minimize the amount of damage as well."

Restoration work could ultimately cost Zinkevich $25,000, but there's a chance it could be finished by Jan. 20 - in time for his return home from a cancer operation at Vancouver General Hospital.

On Jan. 14, Zinkevich will enter hospital for treatment of a tumour in his stomach that will involve removing the organ entirely. It was discovered in September after numerous tests alternated between a positive and negative detection of the cancer. Doctors initially wanted to take half the stomach out but that ultimately didn't make any sense.

"It's stupid to take half the stomach out," he said. "I'm 70 years old, I could live longer if the whole stomach is taken out."

The operation will keep him in hospital for six days and he hopes that the restoration work being done on the property could be finished by the time he comes home.

"I don't want to come home to a workshop," Zinkevich said.

Either way, he's thankful to firefighters who saved his home. He's encouraging people to donate to the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association Burn Fund, which raises money to help the province's firefighters educate the public on burn awareness and fire safety. Donations can be dropped off at the fire hall in Whistler Village.



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