Grand Forks Fire/Rescue’s Cpt. John Billwiller retired last month after 40 years with the department. He is pictured driving Hall 351’s 1957 International at a parade circa 2010. Photo: John Billwiller

Grand Forks Fire/Rescue’s Cpt. John Billwiller retired last month after 40 years with the department. He is pictured driving Hall 351’s 1957 International at a parade circa 2010. Photo: John Billwiller

“The people got older and the equipment got newer,” says retired Fire Captain John Billwiller

Billwiller was a volunteer firefighter in North Fork for 40 years

Cpt. John Billwiller has retired his post at Grand Forks Fire/Rescue after 40 years at the department.

His resumé speaks to his passion for service more than his words ever could.

“Nomenclature is everything,” he told The Gazette, pointing to a printed “cheat sheet” detailing a lifetime of volunteerism.

His point wasn’t lost on this reporter, who stumbled repeatedly over the various iterations of Grand Forks fire departments going back to September 1980, when Billwiller signed up as a trainee. Rural Grand Forks had it’s own fire department until 2006, when Billwiller helped negotiate the integration of the two departments.

Nomenclature — the science of naming things — may be everything, but how does one label a man like Billwiller, who prefers not to talk about himself?

READ MORE: Grand Forks appoints new permanent fire chief

The man is a terrible self-promoter, for one.

“The people got older and the equipment got newer,” he said of his career at rural Grand Forks’ George Evans Hall (now Hall 351).

“I was a firefighter after completing my training. Your pager went off, you went to the hall, you got your gear on and you got in the truck.

John Billwiller retired from active fire service in September. Photo: Laurie Tritschler

John Billwiller retired from active fire service in September. Photo: Laurie Tritschler

Then I became a lieutenant. If no other officer was in the truck, I was in charge.

Then they appointed me captain. Until a superior officer arrived, I was in command of the fire scene.”

He said he was lucky never to have gone out on calls where people had died. And he kept himself safe, too.

“Nothing broken. No burns. No accidents with the firetruck.”

Billwiller was more talkative when it came to his retirement, but even then he was terse.

“An emotional subject” was how he summed up it up.

“Do I regret leaving?” he asked himself. “Yes.”

“I would’ve stayed if my body would let me,” he insisted.

“It’s been part of my life for over 40 years – in other words, over half my life.”

But at 74, Billwiller is beginning to slow down.

He runs a small business from his home on the North Fork and his wife is happy to have him there.

“Absolutely,” he said. “She doesn’t have to worry” now that he’s stepped away from active duty.

“John’s years of service haven’t gone without sacrifice,” said Grand Forks’ fire chief George Seigler.

“In that time, he’s missed many a meal with his family and he’s spent a lot of time away from home.”

Billwiller was given a standing ovation at his last meeting at Grand Forks Fire and Rescue’s 2nd St. Hall Wednesday evening, Oct. 7.

Even then, Chief Seigler said Billwiller kept his speech short.

Billwiller has been asked to stay on at the department’s equipment acquisition committee, where he will get older and the equipment will get newer.


@ltritsch1
laurie.tritschler@grandforksgazette.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

fireGrand ForksVolunteervolunteers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A view of proposed seniors housing on Vernon St. Illustration: City of Nelson/ Vendure Retirement Communities
Nelson seniors housing project to start construction in the spring

Private development on Vernon Street will provide assisted living services as well as housing

The fundraiser is anticipated to occur again next year. Photo: Deb Penner
Castlegar Blue Barn Pet staff raise $15,579 for charities

Staff decided to hold fundraiser after they had to cancel their pet festival this fall

NAV CANDA is considering closing its station at the West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Nav Canada considering closing station at West Kootenay Regional Airport

The organization is conducting a service review at Castlegar’s airport

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

Enrolment is down across the entire district. File photo
SD 20 experiences small decline in student enrolment

District staff said more parents are homeschooling their children this year due to COVID-19 crisis

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports seven more COVID-19 cases

Eighty-nine cases remain active, none of whom are currently hospitalized

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Most Read