In a recent letter to the Star/ Journal, Heather Taggart writes, “My very dear friend, Paul Celesta, an elder tribesman of the Simpcw First Nation, and the man who brought the Chu Chua Fire Department to that community, has decided to retire after 34 years of serving his community.”
Heather also wrote, “This man has a selfless nature. He has loved being able to serve his community for the past 34 years, so for Paul, retirement is bitter-sweet. He is an honourable, and humble man, and I feel you might want to take the opportunity to thank him properly for all of his years of service, and for bringing the town its first fire department. I’ve known this man most of my life. If I was still local, I would give him a retirement party deserving of a hero, because he is.”
As a result of Heather’s letter the Star/Journal spoke with Paul on Monday, and found the letter writer to be correct when noting that Paul “..is a humble man”. Paul confirmed that he is in fact retiring after a 34 year stint as a firefighter in his community of Chu Chua, and that “yes” he was the one who began the work to create the fire department for his community.
“I sat on the Band Council for almost 29 years,” said Paul, “One of the first tasks they gave me was the starting of the fire department, which I did with the help of others.”
He tells that once they got going there was no fire hall, so they used an old fisheries building that was in the community.
“It was way too small and part of the fisheries program,” told Paul, “So then we built a fire hall that served us for many years, and now we have a new fire hall and three good vehicles.”
He tells that for the first few years of operation the newly formed fire department averaged about 19 firefighters on the roster.
“It dropped off for awhile – and then it was up and down all through the years,” said Paul, “Now we have 13.”
He also notes that the community has a mutual aid agreement with Barriere, and, “…a few years ago we signed a mutual aid agreement with the Fennels down the road, and now we get some firefighters from them as well.”
Talking about the initial years of the department, Paul said, “At the beginning we did a lot of training with the Justice Institute, then Indian Affairs and so on. Now a training officer comes out every two weeks to work with us, which also keeps Worksafe BC happy.”
Paul says he’s been to a lot of call-outs over the years, and that he was with the Chu Chua firefighters when they came to the aid of Barriere to help protect their community during the 2003 Mclure Wildfire as it made its destructive sweep through the area. Gloria, Paul’s wife, has watched him rush out the door many times to help others experiencing a fire. But neither one of the couple ever expected they would lose their own home to a house fire in 2010.
“It has taken about two years to rebuild,” said Paul, “Now we are just waiting for some trades people and inspections to have it all done.”
Asked what the most memorable fire was that he has attended in his 34 years as a firefighter, Paul did not hesitate in saying, “When the old Catholic church burnt down!”
“It’s been all memorable to me,” said the firefighter, “I enjoy working with the guys. I have served the community for almost half of my life.”
“The family has been really supportive of me,” said Paul, “That’s what you need – support.”
Paul, who also served as fire chief for Chu Chua “two or three times”, says it’s been a lifetime of ongoing learning.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed working as a firefighter over the years. I’ve trained a lot and so have all of the others. Even if they are no longer in the department they are always there, and that’s a good thing for the safety of the community.”
We asked Paul if he had a final comment for this article?
“A big thank you for all the support I’ve had over the years,” said this humble firefighter.
“But something I’ll really miss is working with the guys.”
More about the Chu Chua Fire Department as it is today:
The members of the Department are currently enrolled in the Exterior Operations firefighting Training Program through the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Provincial Fire and Safety are administering this program. Several members of the Fire Department are also qualified Medical First Responders.. First Responders have been trained in First Aid and are automatically paged out to 911 calls within the community to provide support and assistance before the ambulance or other services arriveThe Fire Department encourages youth in the Simpcw community to be involved in the program. While those under 16 are not allowed to actively fight fires due to safety concerns, this is invaluable experience and leads to young people being better able to manage emergency situations in their own life as well as aiding their community. The Fire Department also helps out with Fire Safety lessons at the community school, playing an active role in the “Learn Not To Burn” campaign, which teaches youngsters how to use a fire extinguisher, create an escape plan and other important tips. The Fire Department has been important to Chu Chua, as well as the larger community of Barriere- helping out with the 2003 fire, as well as an ongoing agreement that provides assistance between the two communities in the case of an emergency. In 2015, the Fire Department was instrumental in the construction of an emergency services relay tower, which provides an increased level of emergency services to Chu Chua. The Department also hosts an annual Slo-Pitch Tournament as a fund raiser, 2017 was the 26th year this has been held at the Chu Chua Ball Field. Today the Fire Department’s equipment includes a 2003 Ford CAFS Truck (150 gal.), a 2008 Freightliner Tanker (1500 gal.) with on-board hose reel and fire pump, a 1974 International Tanker (1500 gal.) with rear-mounted gasoline water pump and reel with 100’ of hard hose, SCBA tanks, and a portable 1500 gallon tank. The CAFS truck contains an Emergency Jump Kit and Oxygen Tank, and each First Responder is given an emergency jump kit to help speed up response time.