Volunteer firefighter Lester McInally, 73, is an integral part of the team at the White Lake Fire Department, helping with safety protocols and staging at fire scenes. (White Lake Fire Department photo)

Shuswap grandmother wears firefighting boots

73-year-old Lester McInally fills crucial role with Shuswap fire department

The pager goes off and Lester McInally responds.

She heads to the White Lake Fire Hall and hurries into her turnout gear—boots, pants, jacket and helmet—before hopping on the fire truck.

It’s not what you might expect from a 73-year-old grandmother. But McInally is ready to answer the call because she knows she’s needed. She has never actually fought a fire as part of an attack crew, but McInally is there in a support role, one which is also crucial to safe and smooth fire operations.

“I’ve never been the one to pick up a hose,” she said. “But I’m part of the team, just being there, volunteering. When that pager goes off, I’m down at the hall. I’m there because I know I’m needed.”

Read more: Shuswap firefighters take charge in emergency scenarios

Read more: Tappen Sunnybrae named fire department of the year

All CSRD fire departments in the region are in need of new members but, as with McInally, all volunteers don’t have to haul hoses or go into burning buildings. Members who act in support roles can be just as critical to the department. Anyone who wants to learn more about firefighting and put their individual skills to work could find a role that suits.

McInally has done a variety of jobs at the fire hall, mostly in staging at a fire scene, which ensures someone is keeping track of all the firefighters on scene, managing rest breaks and where the various personnel have been assigned. She also will act as a scribe for the chief or incident commander, taking notes to ensure proper records are kept.

“Accountability is very important. It’s something we take very seriously,” she said. “It’s for everyone’s safety.”

It’s now been 17 years since McInally moved with her husband to the area and the couple decided they should get involved with the fire department. It was also a way to meet neighbours, many of whom are now friends.

“I wanted to live somewhere rural but with a fire hall. That’s important for safety and insurance. So we just felt like if we wanted this, we should support it.”

McInally’s husband retired a few years ago, but she has continued on, saying the oldest member she knows of was 75 when he retired, so that’s her plan too. She’s a bit of a den mother at the hall, doing administrative paperwork and helping with the community education and events like an upcoming Christmas food drive, the annual Halloween celebrations and fireworks and community pancake breakfasts.

“It does feel like a home, like you are part of a group, a family. You see someone with a fire jacket on somewhere in the community and you have an instant connection because you have firefighting in common.”

For McInally, Tuesday nights continue to be reserved exclusively for fire practice and she hopes to see new faces joining the effort.

“I like to see the people there. It gives you a good feeling to be with all these people who work to keep our community safe.”

Read more: Swansea Point firefighter recognized for 25 years of service

Read more: Shuswap firefighters respond to residential blaze in Blind Bay

For more information on becoming a volunteer firefighter at one of the 13 CSRD fire departments around the region, check out the firefighter recruiting page on the CSRD website, www.csrd.bc.ca, email fire@csrd.bc.ca or contact Sean Coubrough, fire services co-ordinator, at 250-833-5955.

Submitted by the CSRD.


Lester McInally trains and shares a laugh with her colleagues at the White Lake Fire Department every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in volunteering for a CSRD Fire Department is welcome to show up to the fire hall and check it out, or find out more at the CSRD website. (White Lake Fire Department photo)

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