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Q&A with Adamee Itorcheak

Kirsten Murphy
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Oct 15/01) - Adamee Itorcheak is a fast-talking Internet entrepreneur and volunteer firefighter. He has no illusions about saving lives, politics or Hollywood celebrities.

Instead, the 36-year-old husband and father is a whirling dervish of practical but creative ideas and advice.

Adamee Itorcheak: comfortable as a firefighter, wireless wizard or parent. - Kirsten Murphy/NNSL photo

News/North: Any desire to be in New York City, assisting with the relief efforts?

Adamee Itorcheak: None at all. After 13 years with the Iqaluit fire department I know eight storeys is a challenge enough. Try going 100 storeys. No wonder the New York firefighters hit the 30th and 40th floors and collapsed from fear and sheer exhaustion.

N/N: Has the Sept.11 tragedy changed the way you approach volunteer firefighting?

AI: You know from training what the consequences are. You can train in different scenarios but you never know.

N/N: What call stands out? Suicides, murders?

AI: Anything. I've been to just about every major call in the last 12-13 years. Ten tonnes of dynamite in a container, F-18s, the Nanook school fire, the West 40 Road. It can get hairy. Attending calls when you know people. In a town like Iqaluit you know everybody.

N/N: What made you join?

AI: Couple of things. I was working with Bell Canada in northern Quebec and there was a house fire and I didn't know what to do. Two people were burned. All I had was basic first aid. Another time I was in Panniqtuuq and I put out a fire with a fire extinguisher.

N/N: Have you ever delivered a baby?

AI: A couple. Some have been in houses in storms.

N/N: How closely do fire and ambulance teams work together?

AI: Very -- and with the RCMP. We're very lucky we have fire and ambulance in the same department.

N/N: Were you called to the First Air hangar fire in June? No one was hurt but I understand firefighters were at risk because of the flammable and explosive materials.

AI: It could have easily become worse. We get a lot of tough calls compared with Southern Canada because we don't have anyone to call for backup. We have police, firefighters and paramedics. There's been some real tough calls.

N/N: Have you ever considered quitting?

AI: Not from one specific thing. Certain calls take a bit of digesting. A period to time, maybe a few hours or a few minutes and by talking it out within the department it's OK. I've gone through it a couple of times. I've seen it with other firefighters.

N/N: How does someone become a volunteer firefighter?

AI: Contact their local fire chief. We have a fabulous chief here. He expects the chain of command to be followed and that's the only way it's going to work in an emergency situation. You have to have structure because you may have chaos. Practices are every Tuesday and every fifth Sunday.

N/N: Have you ever needed medical attention?

AI: I've broken ribs and a collar bone snowmobile racing.

N/N: What's your Monday-to-Friday job with Nunanet?

AI: I'm the janitor.

N/N: Funny. You said you just came from a service call.

AI: Yeah, I was cleaning up the shit someone left behind (laughs). My wife and I own Nunanet. I do whatever needs to be done. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades when you own your own business. One minute you may be pushing a broom, the next minute you're working on a hard drive.

N/N: How has volunteer firefighting changed your life?

AI: In my case, a good chunk of training is attitude and structure, discipline. That's why I encourage people to try firefighting.

N/N: Did you go to high school in Iqaluit?

AI: Yes.

N/N: Were you a good student?

AI: No. Are you kidding?

N/N: Did you finish high school?

AI: No, went as far as Grade 10 mechanics.

N/N: How do you think your teachers remember you?

AI: They'd be shocked to see me now because I was a bit of a rebel. Not a rebel -- but I like to think a little bit of revolution is good for the country. Trudeau said that, or something like that.

N/N: Are you encouraging your two children to stay in school?

AI: I don't have to push them they way my mom had to with me.

N/N: Why?

AI: They see the value of what is required today. There's a lot of doom and gloom in some areas but there are a lot of positive areas. It balances out.

N/N: Other than seven years in northern Quebec you've always lived in Iqaluit. What's good about living here?

AI: It's my home.

N/N: What's something you'd like to see change?

AI: We're going through a transition as a territory and a city.

N/N: Ever been involved with politics?

AI: Once. Never again. Couple elections ago I ran for mayor. Politics, why would I want to go into politics?

N/N: To bring about change.

AI: I don't know....

N/N: Besides Bell Canada, what other jobs have you held?

AI: Outfitting.

N/N: Why have the Wall Street Journal and Wired magazine interviewed you?

AI: Stuff (Nunanet) has done. We've played around with wireless since the 1980s.

N/N: Anything other jobs? Restaurant work?

AI: Couldn't. I'd get cranky and everybody would run away. The service industry is tough. Everyone gets their share of headaches. The grass is always greener on someone else's lot.

N/N: You certainly speak your mind.

AI: Things can build up easily otherwise.

N/N: What movie star would you trade places with?

AI: Why would I want to be a movie star?

N/N: OK, an athlete?

AI: If I could trade places with anyone, it would be Branson. Richard Branson. Virgin Airlines, Virgin Records.

N/N: The eccentric man.

AI: I don't think he's eccentric.

N/N: He flies hot air balloons around the world.

AI: So? He flies planes too. I can't be just a carver, or a business owner, or an administrator or a hunter. I need variety to enjoy life. I've done a little bit of everything. You only live your life once.

N/N: What's next?

AI: I'd like to start a school where students spent part of the time on the land. It's a bit of a dream. School is good for reading and writing but there are other ways to educate a child. A school with four walls is one thing. Then you have to give them a bit of a spice.

N/N: Who has had the greatest influence on your life?

AI: Lots of people, some I haven't even met. Like Richard Branson. When I worked for Bell Canada I met a lot of interesting people.

N/N: Do you read a lot?

AI: I'm a news fanatic. TV, radio, newspaper. Whatever I can get a hold of.

N/N: Do you want to ask a question yourself?

AI: (Long pause.) It would be interesting to see a reporter's version of a Q&A.