Skip to content

After 28-year career, Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino ready for change

Loss of brother, summer wildfires factors behind decision to retire

Though passionate about his profession, Sicamous fire chief Brett Ogino is ready for a change.

After close to 30 years of serving his community as a firefighter, 20 as fire chief, Ogino will be retiring from the fire department on March 20.

“For me it will be a nice change,” said Ogino.

“It’s been a little stressful, well, actually, since I came on full-time (as fire chief) in 2016 – we’ve had some pretty crazy years. It will be a nice break to have a summer where I’m not going, ‘Oh sh*t, here we go again!’”

In December, Ogino’s spouse, Vivian, stepped away from a career of more than 10 years with the fire department. In addition to administrative work, Vivian drove fire trucks and was involved in practices and exercises.

Both are looking forward to doing some travelling – as a couple, and not work related.

“We haven’t had a decent holiday in, boy, I think it was 2018…,” laughed Vivian. “Otherwise, we haven’t’ had a real holiday for a long time. So I’m looking forward to that and just having – just time. Time together.”

“My holidays used to be going out on deployments,” said Ogino. “(Vivian) never really liked that.”

His career with the Sicamous Fire Department began in 1995. He said he’d been taking some Tuesday evening courses for Power and Sail Squadron that had come to an end, and was looking for something else to do.

“I decided I’m going to go to a fire practice and see what it’s all about…,” said Ogino. “I really got hooked on it and yeah, 28 years later and I’m saying ‘OK, that’s a good, solid bit of time put in.’”

Asked if he remembered his first fire response, Ogino said the first big one he attended was a structure fire.

“It was scary, I can tell you that,” he recalled, explaining how, when at the scene, firefighters heard loud popping noises going off inside the burning home.

“The homeowner said, ‘It’s ammunition’, so we’re ducking behind cars, not knowing that ammunition not loaded into a weapon isn’t really that dangerous. But we didn’t know that at the time,” he laughed.

“Once the ammunition finished popping off we went inside.

“I remember the guy I was working with, I told him not to go out onto the floor because the centre of it had been burned out.

“Sure enough, he went out there and fell through the floor. He only dropped about five feet, but still, it was pretty scary to watch him kind of half disappear in front of you.

“I had to pull him out. It was an exciting first major call for sure.”

Not surprisingly, change has been a constant during Ogino’s time with the fire department, from factors that determine how a fire response is handled, to the types of responses firefighters are trained for.

Residential construction is one of those factors.

Ogino said when he started with the fire department, most homes were solid wood construction with little to no particleboard.

“Now everything has particleboard in it, including flooring, which burns incredibly fast, really hot and fails very quickly,” he said.

However, ongoing training helps equip firefighters to meet such changes and other challenging conditions.

“I think a big change for the positive is greatly improved training requirements, building code requirements have been constantly changing, improving and in general getting better… and within the department, we’ve gone from only doing fires, to now doing swift-water rescues, we do ice rescues and we’re looking to take on auto extrication…,” said Ogino.

Another positive has been the ongoing support the fire department has received from the community and the district.

“We’re quite fortunate in Sicamous having a good, supportive municipality…,” said Ogino.

Several extreme events were part of those “crazy years” Brett referred to, including the destructive 2012 debris flow in Two Mile and, more recently, the Two Mile Creek wildfire in 2021.

Another increasingly common occurrence is the deployment of Sicamous firefighters to wildfire-threatened communities elsewhere in the province.

In 2023, that included West Kelowna and the North Shuswap.

“I know from my crew, they like going out and helping other communities, they take a lot of pride in it,” said Ogino, who is hopeful Sicamous’ next fire chief will support the continuation of this work.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot more stress because you’ve got your crews all over the place and you don’t have nearly the same control as you do when they’re at home.”

Ogino said his decision to retire was also driven by the loss his brother, Michael Ogino, who passed away in September.

Read more: ‘We’ve got a monster sitting above our town’: Sicamous fire chief on day 3 of Two Mile Road wildfire

Read more: Fire scenario a chance to prepare for the worst

Read more: Sicamous arena treating for ammonia

“This past summer, being as crazy as it was, it meant a lot of stress for me,” said Brett.

“I had a sick brother who passed away as well – that made it much worse – that kind of realization that, ‘OK, that’s not good, he’s only two years older than me and he’s passed away.’

“That was more of the realization for me. I’ve got a limited lifespan, maybe I should start enjoying it and relaxing a little bit in the summer.”

When he retires in March, Ogino said he’s also looking forward to spending time golfing and riding his e-bike.

And while he may be done with the fire department, Brett said he’s open to helping out with future emergency situations in the Columbia Shuswap Regional District.

“I don’t think I’ll step so far back that I won’t have anything to do with emergencies at all,” he said.

“It’s funny. I’ve always been a firm believer in continuing education. I’m doing an emergency operations centre ops section course in February, so it’s like, well, you never know. If the CSRD has another major emergency, maybe I can help out there.

“My wife will probably shoot me!”

Vivian has other plans.

“I just want to relax… and not have a pager going off in the middle of the night. I want to get all the pagers and all of the radios out of the house. I can’t wait to have that just gone and be somebody else’s problem,”she laughed.

“You know, I’m not going to calls but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t wake me up when he’s going, or that I’m not concerned with what’s going on at the calls…

“There was five weekends in a row where he was gone, training somebody or he was being trained.

“I’ll be glad to have those times together.”

Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor of the Salmon Arm Observer, Shuswap Market, and Eagle Valley News. I'm always looking for new and exciting ways to keep our readers informed and engaged.
Read more