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A 16-year veteran at 32
Vince McKay began training to be firefighter as a teenager

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HAY RIVER - Even though he is only 32 years old, Vince McKay is a long-time veteran of the Hay River Fire Department.

NNSL photo/graphic

Vince McKay has been a member of the Hay River Fire Department since he was a teenager. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"I started when I was 16 years old," he said, explaining he joined as a junior firefighter. "I wasn't allowed to take calls, but I could take training and attend meetings."

McKay, who grew up in the flood prone West Channel area of Hay River, said his connection to the fire department started during one spring breakup when he would ride along with firefighters during flood watch.

Then Fire Chief Ross Potter, who recently returned to the post, saw the teenager's interest in firefighting and took him into the force.

"My vision was never to be on a fire department," said McKay, who actually admits to starting some small grass fires as a kid.

His role with the volunteer department is part of his commitment to the community, he said. "I've always felt that, if my family needed help, someone needs to answer those calls. If they go unanswered, my family doesn't get help."

On the department, McKay is a captain and also serves as co-ordinator for its ambulance service.

McKay has worked for 11 years as a corrections officer at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre.

However, he also has a part-time job selling firefighting equipment

McKay said in 1997 he was working for a fire safety company that folded, but one of its suppliers Starfield Lion Apparel of Toronto wanted to keep a presence in the North.

"I'm their dealer in the North," he said.

His own business name is Westech Fire and Safety.

"Basically, I sell firefighting equipment, and I do a lot of medical training," he said.

He sells equipment such as boots and helmets to fire departments in northern Alberta and throughout the NWT, while the training includes skills like First Aid and CPR.

"It's part-time, but it's more of a hobby," he said, explaining it keeps him busy during his spare time.

"The way I tell people is who better to buy gear from, for example, than someone who uses it," he said. "I can tell them what I like and what I don't like."

McKay said he hated seeing small fire departments in small communities basically get abused by their lack of knowledge of firefighting equipment, explaining they would either have equipment that didn't meet their needs or was beyond what they required.

The communities he deals with appreciate his knowledge of the equipment, he said.

If a full-time, paid fire department is ever established in Hay River, McKay, who was born and raised in the community, said he would look at becoming a member, but he would not want to leave to be a professional firefighter elsewhere.

"My issue is leaving Hay River," he said. "I enjoy Hay River. I like Hay River. Hay River is my home and probably will be my home forever."

McKay served on town council for six years up to 2008 when he did not seek re-election.

"I enjoyed politics," he said. "I didn't leave politics because of a hate for it. I'd like to get back in it soon."

His plan is to run in next year's territorial election in Hay River North.

That would be his second try at territorial politics. In 2007, he unsuccessfully tried to unseat Hay River North MLA Paul Delorey and promised at that time he would run in the next election.

If he happens to win, McKay said he would drop his part-time job and would have to resign as a correctional officer, but would remain a volunteer firefighter. "I really enjoy it."

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