Black Mountain Elementary students, staff and parents expressed their gratitude Thursday morning to Joe Rich and Kelowna firefighters and first responders who battled the Philpott Road wildfire this summer.
A contingent of RCMP, ambulance, wildlife service and fire department members were led by Joe Rich fire chief Ben Wasyliuk at the school’s heroes assembly.
“Our students work on their social emotional learning every day, part of which means learning to show gratitude,” said Black Mountain school principal Janet Williams.
“As a school, we wanted to honour the brave people who fought the wildfire that threatened so many homes in our area.”
Alyssa Glid, a Grade 5 student, echoed the sentiments of her classmates, saying she wanted to thank the firefighters and first responders for helping to ensure no homes were lost in the wildfire.
“It is important to thank them because of what they do every day. They put their lives in danger to keep our lives out of danger and get the fires out,” she said.
Sarah Watson, vice-principal at Rutland Senior Secondary and a Joe Rich resident, spoke to the assembly about her family’s experience of being evacuated.
Amidst the stress and emotions of being displaced from their home, Watson said their family took great comfort in knowing the firefighting efforts would do everything possible to save their house.
“It was emotional and physically exhausting work I’m sure, and a worrisome time for all of us, but we were always comforted knowing we felt safe and they were always working on our behalf,” said Watson, who’s daughter attends Black Mountain Elementary.
“I was so thankful, as were all Joe Rich families, to be able to walk back in the front door of our home and say those magical words, ‘It’s so good to be home.’”
Central Okanagan school board chair Moyra Baxter recalled how the school district was a focal point of forest fires this summer, from Joe Rich to Peachland to Lake Country.
“The great thing about that was nobody was killed or seriously hurt. That is the most important thing,” Baxter said.
School district superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal, who lives in the Black Mountain area, said he was impressed at how the community came together to support displaced residents and the firefighting effort.
“It’s been two years since I moved here, but I was amazed to see how our staff, teachers, principals and others helped and comforted evacuated families and made them feel they had the support of the community,” Kaardal said.
“These are incredible people we recognize today who put their lives at risk for us, our homes and our livestock. The result was an outstanding result where everyone’s homes were saved and no lives were lost.
He said the students gathering to share their gratitude is a reflection of his own belief that “a life lived with gratitude is a life filled with joy.”
After the assembly, Wasyliuk said the response from the school was moving for all of his first responder cohorts to hear.
“It was certainly heartwarming to enter the assembly and to hear the applause and appreciation from the students, parents and faculty,” he said.
Following the morning assembly, Black Mountain students took part in the school’s annual Terry Fox Run in the afternoon.
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