South Peace News
It was truly a night of mixed emotions, from the euphoric high of recognizing the incredible service the High Prairie Fire Department provides its citizens, to the realization they are losing long-time fire chief Ken Melnyk effective June 30.
“It has been a unique, worthwhile and challenging time,” said Melnyk after making the announcement.
“I have been pleased to serve the department as long as I have.”
Melnyk began serving in 1981 and became fire chief on April 1, 2001. Former fire chief Bill Eckel resigned March 31, 2001 after over 40 years of service. He attended the ball and has not missed one since the 1970s.
In typical fashion, Melynk added he will still be available “for support to advancing the team.”
Dave Crooks acted as master of ceremonies and fittingly recognized the efforts of firefighters.
“When we run out of those burning buildings they run into those burning buildings,” he said. “We can’t thank you enough.”
Former Lesser Slave Lake MLA Danielle Larivee – she is not a sitting MLA during an election – told a similar story during the 2011 Slave Lake wildfires.
“When I was driving away from the fires you were driving toward it,” she said.
She added her thanks not only for the time fighting fires, but for all the time invested in training and practice.
High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk also extended thanks on behalf of the town’s citizens.
“I know it’s really appreciated by the community,” he said.
After the question of cutting the department’s budget was raised at a council meeting, he said council heard loud and clear what value the department provided to the community.
“It is a valuable resource. The story wasn’t true but it provided for a lot of discussion.”
Panasiuk also thanked Melnyk for his 38 years of service and ended with a fitting quote.
“No one is more cherished in this world than one who lightens the burden of another.”
Big Lakes County Reeve Richard Simard also extended thanks. The department serves parts of the county and, in turn, the county contributes money toward operations.
Simard spoke of the anticipation of each call.
“You know you’ll put your life on the line for someone else. This is the life of a firefighter.”
And, added Simard, to be a firefighter in addition to jobs already held makes the effort even more extraordinary.
Melnyk introduced each firefighter and their spouses or significant other.
“You are the real heroes who run to [peoples’] aid,” he said.
Melnyk also thanked the employers of firefighters for the time off to allow them to perform their duties.
Awards were presented with the highlight being the Firefighter-of-the-Year award to Michael Belyan. Fire department members vote on the award, which recognizes exemplary service, dedication to the service and department, and the motivation to lead others.