(From left) Creston Fire Rescue Chief Mike Moore and Creston Mayor Ron Toyota present retiring firefighter Harold Standen with a silver horn.

(From left) Creston Fire Rescue Chief Mike Moore and Creston Mayor Ron Toyota present retiring firefighter Harold Standen with a silver horn.

Retired Creston firefighter honoured after 49 years of service

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  • Apr. 26, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Harold Standen has fought more fires than he can remember, and after 49 years in Creston Fire Rescue he has decided it’s time to call it quits.

Standen started — officially — as a firefighter in 1965.

“Even before I joined, if a fire started, I was there,” he said. “It doesn’t show up on the records.”

His father, Bill, was once a deputy chief and Standen simply followed in his footsteps, as his own three sons would when they reached adulthood.

Bill Carter was chief when Standen joined Creston Fire Rescue and he says “there were maybe a dozen” firemen on the force at the time. The term “firemen” would later be supplanted with “firefighters” when women began to join as volunteers.

“It just gradually happened,” he said. “I don’t think anyone gave it a second thought.”

When Standen joined in 1965 the fire hall was located on 11th Avenue North, directly south of where the Creston and District Credit Union now sits. Trainers used to come in from Vancouver to work with the volunteers. Standen became a Town of Creston public works employee, driving the garbage truck and other vehicles, so he was always on standby to respond to fires.

“They told me that after I finished my garbage route I should just go the fire hall so they knew where I was,” he recalled.

He kept busy maintaining equipment and servicing oxygen tanks.

Fire departments are renowned for keeping fire trucks spotless and gleaming, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to problems.

“We had a Model B Ford and one time it wouldn’t start. We had to push it down the road to get going,” he laughed.

He spent most of his career as deputy chief, working under many different fire chiefs. Each had his own way of doing things, and Standen simply adapted as the years passed.

His first big fire, he said, was a Royal Bank blaze on a New Year’s Eve.

“I was at a dance and I ran down in my suit,” he said. “The water froze it solid.

“Then there was the old rec centre. Fire went through that building like you wouldn’t believe.”

A memory that stays with him is the fire that destroyed Prince Charles Secondary School early one morning in 1980.

“My boys were going there at the time,” he said.

Grad decorations set atop a heater in an adjacent building caught fire, which quickly spread to the main building.

“Teachers entered through the front door and you know what happens then—the fire drew quickly right through the building and it was out of control.”

He laughed when reminded about the Advance photo that caught principal Bill Goodchild exiting from the school, carrying a huge bass drum as volunteers scrambled to save band instruments.

The biggest blaze, Standen said, might have been on the winter night when Sunset Seed Co. caught fire.

“We could never have stopped that fire in a million years,” he said, shaking his head at the memory.

Over the course of his career, Standen said he witnessed many changes. Firefighters used to have dedicated landline phones in their homes.

“When a call came in, everyone could pick up the phone and hear where the fire was. I could even ring the siren from my house. Then we used to pack pagers, but it’s all cellphones now.”

Much of the appeal that kept him on the job for almost a half-century was the social aspect.

“The friendships were amazing. And there was the ladies’ auxiliary — they did a lot of work behind the scenes.”

Until recent years, more skills competitions against other towns were held and volunteers spent more time at the fire hall.

“We used to play pool and poker after training but now after practice they’re gone,” he says of a young generation of firefighters. “Times change.”

Standen has boxes of trophies and plaques that have accumulated over the years, but he said the legacy that makes him most proud is that his sons followed in his path. Larry, Wayne and Don were all volunteer firefighters. Two were captains and one worked in the ambulance service. Larry is now a paramedic in Fruitvale, Wayne is an advanced life support specialist and Don had a long career as a firefighter in Creston.

Of his own career, Standen shrugs off the accomplishments.

“I like to help people out,” he said. “But there is something we learned early — buildings can be replaced but people can’t. Safety comes first.”

The Town of Creston honoured Standen with a retirement dinner, and at the April 15 council meeting he was presented with a silver horn, symbolic of the long history that volunteer firefighters have around the world. And, while he might not be responding to any more fires, he doesn’t plan to disappear entirely from the scene.

“I said before I left, ‘I’ll be around to check on you guys!’ ”