Castlegar’s Bob Dickson is lucky to be alive. Back in 1977, he and another fireman were attending a fire on Columbia Avenue when an explosion occurred, and they were struck by a fireball that burned much of Bob’s body. It took several months for the local hospital to heal his skin and bring him back to the land of the living.
This horrific incident and many others are illustrated in Bob Dickson’s recently published book, Firestorm: The Journey of a Fireman across B.C. (Victoria: Tellwell Publishers). In fact, the book is a gathering of hundreds of episodes he experienced in his many years as a volunteer fireman. He began his career in his hometown of Prince Rupert in 1965 and ended his career in Castlegar in the early 2000s.
Dickson had a very busy life. In addition to fighting fires as a volunteer, he worked as a steam engineer for various companies and mills throughout the province. Although his volunteer fire-work began in Prince Rupert, he carried on with similar volunteering in Ocean Falls, Houston, and finally Castlegar.
During his nearly 40 years of being a volunteer fireman, Dickson was an assistant fire chief, an assistant to the fire marshall, a training officer, an auxiliary fire fighter, and always a volunteer fireman. In Houston, he was elected fire chief and held that position for years before moving on.
Local Castlegar fire fighters from the past will enjoy this book because it narrates incidents from that time that many of them would have experienced. As well, it names key individuals in most of the situations from Ed Isakson to Mac Gregory.
Because Dickson took on a training role with the Justice Institute of B.C., his book outlines routines in various fire halls around the Kootenays and Okanagan — all very specific and insightful.
Firestorm is a well-written book loaded with actual details about fire halls, about firemen behaviors, about episodes at fire scenes, and about incidents at motor-vehicle accidents.
It describes aspects of various training courses he and other trainers handled under the auspices of the Justice Institute of B.C. In addition, the book looks at the social aspects of volunteer firemen and their gatherings in the communities Dickson worked in.
It’s a serious look at some 40 years of being a fireman, but the book also has its humorous moments — firemen playing tricks on one another and Dickson having a touch of fun with trainees. In one circumstance, Dickson relates how he lost his fire pants after sliding down a fire pole. It turned out he didn’t know a group of girl guides was touring the hall and his niece was among them.
This book comes with an astonishing number of colour photos. These are pictures of fire halls in the locations where he worked, fire engines that were built or purchased at these halls, fire activities throughout the province, fire competition events, and community buildings of note.
The most striking photo is of the author when he was released from hospital after a month’s healing from being blasted by fire. All of his facial sores are still visible and indicates how awful the burns must have been.
Firestorm represents a bit of B.C. history from a point of view probably not written about anywhere else. It is detailed, factual, and humorous. While Dickson’s experiences are the main focus of the book, it does a good job of covering the life-styles of citizens and the nature of communities as diverse as Prince Rupert, Ocean Falls, Houston, and Castlegar.
Dickson’s book is available online at Barnes and Noble and directly from the author at 250-365-5781.