Inuvik firefighters honoured one of department’s most seasoned and beloved veterans with a Canadian volunteer fire services award at the 2019 Inuvik Firefighter’s Ball on May 4.
Dave Bernhardt has been with Inuvik’s fire department for 39 years, and his fellow firefighters decided to surprise him with the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association Municipal Long Service Award to celebrate all the work he has done for the department and the community throughout the years.
“It broke my heart. I didn’t think I would get it. I couldn’t make any speeches. I wanted to say thank you to everyone, but I’ll thank them in my own way,” said Bernhardt.
When he began his firefighting career in 1980, the 57-year-old said that he never imagined that he would be doing it for this long.
“I wanted to be a firefighter when I was young, which I still want to be. I can’t fight right now but I hope to stay longer as a firefighter here,” he said. “I want to do it because I love my brothers and sisters on the fire department.”
After suffering a heart attack in 2013, he said the doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to fight fires anymore. But that didn’t stop him from helping out at the department, where he keeps busy by completing daily inspections and sharing his knowledge and wisdom with others.
“I’m going to do it until I can’t move anymore. It’s just a love of helping out the fire department and the community. It’s what I’ve been doing for years,” he said. “I want to do it. I felt sad when the doctor said I can’t do it anymore. But I did it anyway.”
Jessica Klaassen, a rookie firefighter and one of the organizers of the event, said Bernhardt has been instrumental in helping her grow as a firefighter.
“I’ve learned about how to access utilidors and how to do different things on the fire services. Whether it’s the best ways to use tools, how to start a tricky chainsaw or something,” said Klaassen. “He just always has this great little tidbit or knowledge to pass on.”
Not only is he warm and personal, she continued, he’s also “like a dad and your favourite uncle all at the same time,” she said.
“He’s got a wicked sense of humour, and he’s just a good human,” she added.
Bernhardt said the most rewarding part of the job is the appreciation he gets from fellow firefighters and community members.
“I feel very emotional sometimes. I can’t say thank you because I’ll break out in tears and I won’t ever stop,” he said.
He added that he wouldn’t be here if not for the unwavering love he receives from his wife, Marjorie, who has been by his side since 1983.
“She’s supported me right from the start,” he said. “I have seven young kids, and she stayed at home to look after them while I did my firefighting. I thank her a lot and I still thank her today for her support.”
Like all members of the fire department, Bernhardt is a volunteer and said he sometimes receives honorariums. However, he said that he doesn’t do it for the money, but rather for his love of the job.
“I do it for love. Love of the community and helping out community members and firefighters. Anytime, I’ll give anybody a hand,” he said.