Amidst the glamorous attire and circus acts at the Sun Peaks Firefighters’ Society Gala on Nov. 23, one long-time local was commended on stage for his contribution to Sun Peaks Fire Rescue (SPFR).
Neil Otsig received a medal for 20 years of service to the volunteer fire department by retiring SPFR chief, Colin Cannon.
Cannon is one of only three other department members to have ever received the award. He and Otsig are now the longest serving current members of SPFR.
“Colin and I are the last of the old guard,” Otsig chuckled.
Otsig started with SPFR in 1999 after moving to Sun Peaks a year earlier.
“(I joined) to do a community service and meet some different people,” Otsig said. “I felt coming in there with my construction background I had some skills that could be used.”
A plumber and pipe fitter by trade, Otsig’s mechanical mindedness is something Cannon celebrates.
“His role in the fire department has been as the [fire engine] pumper and operator for most of the time, because he’s so in tune with that kind of thing,” Cannon said. “We would often fondly call him the MacGyver of the fire department, because he just is able to fix stuff.”
“Neil was a volunteer that would come in on his own time and go through the trucks,” Cannon added. “And just look at tweaking things to make them operate as efficiently as possible. He’s extremely conscientious.”
Otsig said his time with SPFR has been fun.
“A lot of the things you get to practise and do, you can’t do on your own…We can go to the burn building with the proper equipment, with flames licking over your head and a hose with you, and it’s pretty safe, fun stuff.”
Unsurprisingly then, a highlight of Otsig’s time with SPFR is the fire that destroyed the Delta hotel on Oct. 26, 2001.
“Like most people who were there, the Delta fire was the most exciting night we’ve had,” he said. “I was pretty revved up even after the fire.”
Otsig is appreciative of the skills he has acquired through the department too.
“I was probably the first person through SPFR to get their (North American Firefighting Certification) completed,” he said.
“That was a part of (joining) too, to get some skills, so if you’re at an emergency you have an idea of what to do.”
Besides his commitment to SPFR, Otsig—who refers to himself as “semi-retired”—is heavily involved in the Sun Peaks ski racing scene, both in racing and helping organize the Friday Race Series.
“As long as I can ski, I’m going to stay here,” he said.
“The department is evolving and we’ve got a new chief again. This will be the fifth chief I’ve had over me.”
It’s a testament to his long-standing service and why Otsig’s ongoing contribution to the department was recognized at the Gala.
“Over 20 years, he keeps coming to calls,” said Cannon. “A lot of people peter out, but (Otsig) doesn’t. He knows what he’s good at, and when we need him he always steps up.”