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

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

Internet service in the West Kootenay is improving thanks to provincial government grants. File photo
COVID-19 support program brings faster internet to rural communities

The province has provided grants to local internet providers

A daycare in Kaslo says it has been overlooked by a provincial grant to add more child-care spaces in B.C. File photo
Kaslo daycare’s expansion plans fail to meet funder’s test

Periwinkle Children’s Centre had hoped to get a provincial grant

First responders at a crash scene near Rossland on Thursday, Oct. 22. Photo: Trail RCMP
First snow in West Kootenay causes vehicle collisions

The Trail and Greater District RCMP’s weekly brief contains details on collisions

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Most Read