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Local hero receives Queen's Diamond Jubilee Award

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
October 19th, 2012

Castlegar fire chief Gerry Rempel, shortly before being named honourary fire chief in Embetsu, Japan, was presented with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in honour of his many years of service.

Rempel, 57, also serves as airport manager, volunteers for Rotary, works as Brigade Superintendent for St John Ambulance and commanding officer for the local air cadet squadron, not to mention Kootenay rep for the BC Aboriginal Veterans Association, Aboriginal elder and even pinch-hitting for Santa by donning the red velvet suit for community events.

“I have to nag him to take a break or a holiday – If there’s a blank to fill, Gerry’s there to fill it,” said Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff. “There’s not a person in the world who deserves this more. He’s the kind of guy who never says “no”. If it needs doing, he does it.

“This (award) is just the crown on his remarkable accomplishments.”

Rempel was presented with the prestigious award at a reception at the Ktunaxa Lower Kootenay Band Reserve in Creston on Aug. 26, after being nominated by the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association (http://canadianaboriginalveterans.ca/).

Association national president Richard Blackwolf said the award was to recognize service to Canada, veterans, his community and youth – all of which Rempel has done to exemplary effect.

“He’s cheerful and easy-going even in the midst of chaos,” Blackwolf said. “Those are the characteristics that make a good soldier, and they’re also aboriginal qualities, too. These are exceptional people (Rempel was one of 80 recipients nominated across Canada by the association) who put a large effort in for their communities.”

It’s tough to argue that logic when presented with Rempel’s resume, which read like a Who’s Who in public service. His first job was fighting forest fires for the ministry for two seasons. He became a volunteer with the Castlegar fire department in 1976, and worked for the public works department for three years before being hired for airport fire service by Transport Canada in 1981. He became airport fire chief in ’84, then came on as deputy chief for the City of Castlegar in ’91 – taking less than six months to be promoted to chief, a role he has enjoyed ever since.

Meanwhile, he joined the 44 Field Engineer Squadron in Trail in ’89, and started with the air cadets as a reservist in 1992, and still serves as a commanding officer in Nelson. He’s now a regional officer for the BC Aboriginal Veterans Association, serves as Brigade Superintendent for St John Ambulance in Trail, took on the role of airport manager a couple of years back, is an Aboriginal elder, and volunteers for Rotary.

Where, in all this, he finds the time to play Santa Claus at community events is a secret to which only Rempel is privy.

Oh, and he also has a successful 33-year marriage and four grown children between the ages of 24 and 33.

“He actually needs to slow down a little,” Chernoff said. “It’s huge to a community to have someone like him – whatever he does, he puts all of himself into, and he loves it.”

Rempel himself said the award won’t go to his head – in fact, he finds it humbling.

“It’s very much an honour to be nominated and presented with this award,” he said. “It’s huge, actually.”

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