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‘I wanted to do something for my community:’ Stephen Graf

Smithers volunteer fire chief retires after 37 years

Getting abruptly woken up in the middle of the night and rushing out the door to work is something Stephen Graf is well accustomed to.

During his 37-year career with Smithers Fire Rescue as a volunteer firefighter, Graf regularly sacrificed his sleep and his safety to help the community at a moment’s notice.

“The calls can happen any time of the day, and most of the time, it usually happens at one or two o’clock in the morning,” said Graf.

“When the call comes in, you get alert and you get down to the hall as quick as you can. You do your job, and make sure everyone goes home safe and then you go home.”

Now, more than three decades since he first started volunteering, Graf has hung up his gear and retired from the fire department.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s been my life,” he said.

Graf said he feels like it is the right time and wants to make way for the next generation of volunteer firefighters.

Looking back on his many years as a dedicated firefighter, he said despite the demands, it was worth it to help others. He trained with the team every Wednesday and spent numerous weekends doing practice simulations focusing on live fires, first response training or trying new equipment.

After decades of battling blazes, Graf is an expert in predicting how a fire will behave. However, he said there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to handle a fire.

“It’s an art. Every one is different, but there are things to look for, like the way the smoke is happening. You get to learn how to read smoke and decide what kind of a fire attack you’re going to do, is going to be a defensive or an offensive attack,” he said.

“You learn a little bit more and a little bit more every time you go out there.”

The intense commitment, unpredictability and danger that encompasses firefighting might turn some away, not Graf.

“I wanted to do something for my community […] It’s a tough job, but it’s a rewarding job.”

“What kept me in it was just helping the community, and the team that I have. We’ve become like a family, and that’s going to be the hard part, not being able to hang out in the family anymore,” he said.

An April 4 Facebook post from Smithers Fire Rescue announcing Graf’s retirement wished him well and thanked him for his many years of service.

“The amount of work Captain Graf performed to aid our community can never be measured. Even on his last day, he participated in training because that is the type of person/leader he is, he leads by example,” read the post.

Graf’s commitment to helping the community extends far beyond firefighting alone.

He has helped lead Smithers Fire Rescue’s fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, which has raised over $1 million for the charity.

When he wasn’t volunteer firefighting Graf was a co-owner and operator of the Harley Davidson of Smithers dealership, which did business from 1985 to 2020.

The fire department muscular dystrophy team started raising money in the 1980s, and Graf recalls the deputy chief at the time coming to him with the idea to do a raffle on a Harley Davidson motorcyle.

“He’d come to me and said, ‘you know, we should […] raffle a Harley off, so we raffled the Harley off, and we did that for 20-some years.”

“I’m pretty proud of that,” said Graf, emphasizing his pride in being part of the team and getting to give back.

While Graf spent countless hours training and fighting fires, it wasn’t all work and no play.

He said one of his favourite parts of the job was “getting to play with some cool stuff” during the training simulations. He enjoyed working with the jaws of life, trucks and other tools.

Even now, Graf is making plans to visit the fire hall to check out its newest truck.

His fondness for tools and trucks included both the new, shiny equipment and the more ‘retro’ items.

“We got a 1930 Fire truck, and I’ve been able to drive it in the [Fall Fair] parade for a few years,” he said, adding that he enjoys driving the older vehicle.

The truck was originally part of Smithers’ fleet but was sold.

“We had sold it, and then an old firefighter, he found it in Vancouver, and we negotiated it and we bought it back and restored it.”

The restored truck is a favourite for the children who watch it in the parade, said Graf.

As for what comes next for him post-retirement, Graf said he plans to “just take it easy for a little while.”

“Then, I’ll probably volunteer to do something to give back to the community,” said Graf.

“It feels good to help people.”


About the Author: Jenna Legge

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