Transforming the Firefighters’ Society’s annual gala

Pig roasts were a popular fundraiser before the gala events. Photo SPFR

In recent years the annual gala hosted by the Sun Peaks Volunteer Fire Department Society has been known for raising substantial amounts of money for local not-for-profits and giving locals a chance to dress up and party for a night.

What many don’t know is the history of the society and of the event that takes place every winter opening day.

In 1995 Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR) hosted the first ever event, called the Firemans’ Ball, at the old Burfield Lodge. The next year event attendance declined and it was cancelled as a fundraiser. Barbeques and pig roasts continued as informal ways to drum up support and cash.

However SPFR still needed to raise funds for expenses not covered by the annual $30,000 budget from the Improvement District. Everything from shirts and hats to extra courses had to be paid for by the department. The group was incorporated as a society in the spring of 1998 and then received charitable status in an effort to make ongoing fundraising events easier and more cost effective.

Firefighters respond to the Delta fire. Photo SPFR

The department slowly grew until, in 2001, it was called to the biggest fire ever in Sun Peaks. The Delta hotel was under construction when, on Oct. 26, 2001, it caught ablaze.

“My pager went off at 12:30 a.m.,” said Mario Pozza, president of the society. “You could see it out our bedroom window and it was real. I was deputy chief when I got on scene, I had never been to a fire before.”

Current SPFR chief Colin Cannon also remembered the night clearly.
“It was unbelievable, the entire sky was red.”

Firefighters worked hard to prevent the flames from spreading in the village. Photo SPFR

Arne Fevang responded to the call and is also one of the founding members of the society. He described how the first official gala, as it’s known today, was thrown for SPFR that December as a way for the community to thank responders for preventing other buildings from catching on fire.

“The fire department society took over the next year and the Delta wanted to host to kickoff and say thanks,” Pozza said.

The event existed that way for years, as a way to thank volunteers and raise money for the department. But, Fevang said, as the Improvement District saw the benefit of the hall after the 2001 response, and later became a municipality, the budget for the hall increased.

“We got Mountain Rescue and then we were more financially stable and decided to help others. We didn’t need to raise as much.”

The local firefighters who responded to the fire at the Delta. Photo SPFR

Since then the society has picked one or two local organizations each year to split proceeds with. They organize the event and take any profit left over after ticket sales and organization. The not-for-profits have the opportunity to arrange silent and live auction items and each take home thousands of dollars each year.

The society has also continued giving back outside of the annual gala, supporting Royal Inland Hospital, Raise a Reader, Cops for Kids and families of firefighters who are injured or killed.

“The society gives the fire department a chance to support its members,” Pozza said.

Last year Sun Peaks Mountain Rescue Society was able to purchase a LifeArm, an automated chest compression machine, for the community with funds from the event. The device has already been used multiple times.

“It’s an opportunity to get together, an opportunity for the community to talk about the community,” Pozza said.

“It’s an opportunity to thank the first responders,” added Fevang.

This year the event has grown again with resident Janice Hoppenreys taking on the event planning responsibilities.

“This woman is unbelievable,” Cannon said. “This will be the most professional event for the fire department. It will be more polished than ever before, I’m super stoked about that.

“The gala now for me, is we are saying thank you to the volunteer firefighters.”