The Bracebridge Fire Department’s award ceremony last week was a particularly special experience for Mike Peake, who received a 20-year medal as well as a new helmet to recognize his promotion to deputy fire chief.
The department typically holds an award ceremony once a year, but because of COVID restrictions, the event on June 15 was the first in the last few years. Peake has been working double duty as fire prevention officer and acting deputy chief for over a year now. He’ll continue filling both roles until the department hires a new fire prevention officer. Though he’s been aware of his promotion for some time now, he said the significance of receiving his new helmet was still unbelievable.
“It’s something I could have never imagined in my career, and then my 20-year service medal, I knew that was coming but I wasn’t sure when,” Peake said. “It’s a significant achievement within my career as well and something that hopefully my kids will cherish the same way I cherish my grandfather’s service medals from the military.”
Peake first got involved with the fire department 22 years ago as a volunteer firefighter. He worked his way up to driver and pump operator before applying to become a full-time fire prevention officer 12 years into his service.
He’s spent over nine years serving in the role, doing inspections and spreading information about fire safety and prevention at community hubs like schools, day camps and retirement homes. In his new position as deputy fire chief, he’ll focus more on emergency management and assisting the chief in day-to-day operations.
In addition to receiving recognition for his promotion, the awards ceremony meant a lot to Peake because he’s worked alongside the other honourees for his entire career. They’ve seen some firefighters move on to other full-time departments, but many have stuck around, which is crucial since the department has only a few full-time employees and relies on volunteers.
“It’s always good to honour these volunteers and give them the credit that’s due,” Peake said. “A lot of the volunteers are working long hours at their jobs and then they come here on their off time to just give back to the community, so it’s really good to show our appreciation.”
Being a firefighter in Muskoka includes a number of challenges, Peake said. The Bracebridge Fire Department covers a large area and they often have to work in locations without access to hydrants.
It can take upwards of 30 minutes to get to some scenes and their work involves a diverse set of tasks, but thanks to their training, they’re ready for anything and everything, he said. People often feel that they’re too busy to volunteer, but Peake encourages anyone with an interest in firefighting to apply.
“My recommendation is give it a try,” he said. “If it’s not for you or it’s not something that you have the time for, then we can figure that out as we go, but if you’ve got the drive to be a firefighter, then definitely come and put in an application.”
After many years in the field, sometimes firefighters feel as though they’ve seen it all, Peake said, but there are still surprises along the way. When he thinks back over the years since he became a volunteer, some memories stand out.
One was an accident on Highway 11 that involved a truck carrying 75 cows where the crews turned from “firefighters into cattle rescue.” Another is the fire at Muskoka Timber Mills in 2019, which was one of the biggest fires Peake has ever attended.
It’s been great to consider the impact he’s had on the community while receiving such an outpouring of congratulations and support, Peake said. He looks forward to making more memories and he’s grateful to do it in Bracebridge.
“I’m just so thankful that I could have my whole career here at the Bracebridge Fire Department,” he said, “and really glad that I can serve this community because this is where I was born and raised.”