Next year will mark a half-century connection between the Rukus family and the North Cowichan Crofton Fire Department.
And that proud tradition doesn’t show any signs of ending or slowing down any time soon, with the next generation on board to keep the affiliation going for many years to come.
Ron Rukus began with the department in 1968-69 and his three sons soon followed – Paul as a junior in 1978, Ken a year later and Neil as a firefighter for 10 years before becoming the Chemainus chief and currently still serving in Qualicum.
While Ron never actually assumed the position of chief, Paul did from 1994-98 and Ken, 54, is currently in the midst of a three-year term.
Ken remembers waiting anxiously before becoming old enough to join, especially after watching his dad and Paul drive away a few times and being left behind.
“There was no doubt about it for any of us,” Ken indicated. “It was just how quick can we turn 16.”
The terms added up quickly as the years passed and the commitment to the community never wavered, simply becoming a part of their everyday lives.
“Paul was always proud of it,” said Ken. “At any firefighter function, he would say how many years we all had in.”
Paul made it to 21 years before moving away and settling in Mill Bay and Ron reached 20 years before he passed away in 1988 short of his 50th birthday. Tragically, Paul also died earlier this year following a nine-year battle with cancer before reaching his 55th birthday so the family has endured some tough times along the way.
“I was there that day when (Paul) passed,” said Ken. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with.
“There’s an emptiness that will be there from now on. I just have to learn how to deal with it.”
Ken has kept the Rukus name at the forefront with 38 years now under his belt. He’ll hit the amazing 40-year mark in 2020.
“I’m the longest serving member of the department ever,” Ken pointed out.
Other prominent Crofton families dedicated themselves in a similar way, Ken was quick to point out, although “you don’t have that big family connection anymore.”
The Snellings and Roaches were very prominent for long periods of time. Mike Snelling spent 20 years as chief.
The 29 firefighters in the Crofton department today come from a variety of backgrounds, but all have the same common goal.
“These guys are all our family,” Ken said. “It’s amazing what they do. And they all still have regular jobs.”
That includes Ken, of course, and he spends many long hours at the hall after work to do any necessary paperwork or take care of other matters, not to mention the regular practices.
“My bosses are really good,” he praised of his Western Forest Products value-added division employer that allows him the flexibility.
While many women have also taken up firefighting over the years, Ken said it’s important not to forget the valuable role assumed by the women like his mom Kathie and the spouses.
“It’s the wives and the mothers that sit at home,” he stressed. “After the bad calls, they’re there for you. It’s amazing what the spouses do.”
And as time goes on, there will always be more battles to fight at a moment’s notice. Preparing the next generation, like Ken’s own son Anthony, 27, for what lies ahead is part of the current firefighters’ experience.
“They’ve got a little ways to go,” quipped Ken.