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‘Honoured’: Longest serving White Rock firefighter retiring after 45 years

Loved ones highlight work of Rob Heath, White Rock Fire Rescue’s longest serving member
Rob Heath, the longest serving member in White Rock Fire Rescue’s history, has hung up his helmet for the final time to now go on the next journey of his life, in retirement. (Contributed photos)

It’s not always easy to move on.

This is especially true for Rob Heath, the longest-serving member in the history of White Rock Fire Rescue, with 45 years of serving as an on-call firefighter under his belt.

Driving the red truck, operating a pump and having an enjoyable time when possible with the rest of the crew, all while garbed head-to-toe in safety gear, have all been a part of Heath’s life for more than four decades.

But it’s all coming to an end now.

“I don’t want to (retire), but it’s time. It’s my age, and I would prefer not to, but it’s the way it goes. I’ve enjoyed it so much so it’s going to be a big hole to fill for a while,” Heath told Peace Arch News before his last day, Tuesday, April 16.

While it wasn’t a lifelong dream of his, the connection Heath felt to serving his community was instant after he took up an offer from a friend of his.

“A buddy of mine said, ‘Hey, I’m a volunteer firefighter in White Rock and I’m having a heck of a time,’ so I showed up and that was that. They hooked me in.”

The danger and difficulty of the job cannot be underscored enough, but Heath never thought about leaving the profession.

“I never looked back. I always enjoyed it and appreciated the training I’ve been given. The technology and tactics have changed so much in 45 years. We’re much safer and we’re able to save lives much more because of the training, because of the equipment,” he shared.

Rob Heath, the longest serving member in White Rock Fire Rescue’s history, has hung up his helmet for the final time to now go on the next journey of his life, in retirement. (Contributed photo)

Nerves were much higher for Heath during the first few structure fires he responded to, but he learned quickly to leave those feelings at the door and do the important work regardless.

“I feel honoured to have served the people in White Rock. They’ve let me into their homes during their worst time, and you’re able to help them do whatever’s necessary.”

Heath was at a loss for words to answer how difficult it will be for him to no longer work at White Rock Fire Rescue, but that’s where his wife, Pam, stepped in.

“It will be very, very difficult for him. He’s been around longer than anybody else in that place, and he has so much history, not only in his community and White Rock but with being a firefighter,” Pam said.

“His ability to train and the things he’s seen and learned over the many years he’s been doing this, he’s invaluable to them, they really respect him. I know that. He would never admit to that, but I know they’re going to miss him a lot.”

The respect is mutual, as Heath mentioned the care he has for all staff at the department several times, including his colleague friends, the career firefighters, fire chiefs and auxiliary staff.

One colleague of 34 years reached out to Peace Arch News to highlight his friend and mentor.

Rob Heath, the longest serving member in White Rock Fire Rescue’s history, has hung up his helmet for the final time to now go on the next journey of his life, in retirement. (Contributed photo)

“Met him in 1990 when I started with the fire hall in the old building when it was located on the Surrey side of Johnston Road and North Bluff. He had this big mustache — still does — that I found out was his trademark,” said Darren Phillips, an on-call firefighter from White Rock Fire Rescue.

“Over time, he was one of the crew that taught me how to drive and operate the pump on our fire truck we had at the time. In fact, he sat in the right front seat the first time I drove to a fire call. Rob played a role in teaching many of the newer members the skills it took to be a good firefighter, and as auxiliary firefighters that wanted to get career jobs, that helped them get hired. … It has been truly an honour to have worked along side him at WRFR. I am also proud to call him my friend.”

While the list of experiences and memories Heath will miss is endless, the loss of not seeing his lifelong friends as often, who “always got your back,” tops it. Still, there are a couple of things the 65-year-old will gladly let go of in retirement.

“I’m not going to miss those calls in the middle of the night. My kids could tell you a story about my pager going out the kitchen window a couple of times,” Heath shared, laughing.

Born at Peace Arch Hospital, Heath never left the seaside city, but that may change soon as the husband and wife are planning a move to a quieter town where he may start teaching first aid. Those plans are still being tossed around.

April 16 is a busy day for Heath, marking his last day of employment and also his 65th birthday. Sending him off with a retirement party on the Sunday, with a big bash for the Tuesday, is only fitting for the local-history-making fireman.

“The stars aligned; it’s all perfect,” Heath said.

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Sobia Moman

About the Author: Sobia Moman

Sobia Moman is a news and features reporter with the Peace Arch News.
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