Now or Never

'I'm gonna get myself a fire truck': How a small town B.C. fire department was born

Seven years ago, Ian Hicks started his local fire department by buying the truck featured in Rambo: First Blood.

Seven years ago, Ian Hicks bought the fire truck featured in Rambo: First Blood

Some of the McLeese Lake volunteer firefighters during the 2017 B.C. wildfire season. (Ian Hicks / Facebook)

After two decades of living in tiny McLeese Lake, B.C., Ian Hicks decided he wanted to buy a fire truck. 

"A lot of guys in the town all said: 'You can't do that, you don't know what you're doing'," Hicks told Now or Never

Hicks has a day job as a landfill garbage contractor. But seven years ago, he became fed up with the lack of emergency services in his community. 

"I'm not one to go around feeling helpless," said Hicks. "Every time there was an incident or crisis you'd have all kinds of people coming out and standing with their mouths open."

No manual, no gear, no hoses

So when he saw a 1972 Ford fire truck sitting on the side of the highway, Hicks knew he had to buy it. And it turned out to be not just any fire truck — it was featured in the 1982 action flick Rambo: First Blood starring Sylvester Stallone, which happened to be filmed nearby.

"There was no books, manual, no gear, no hoses — but it did pump water," said Hicks. 

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This 1972 Ford fire truck was the department's first piece of equipment... and was featured in the movie Rambo: First Blood. (Submitted by Ian Hicks)

Now that he had a fire truck, Hicks began recruiting others from the community to volunteer. But first, they had to learn how to fight fires.

"It was quite chaotic and disorganized," laughed Hicks, as he recalled a particularly stressful early incident. "We rolled down the hill dragging the hoses behind us. It was just a gong show."

From ragtag to first responders 

McLeese Lake volunteer fire fighters Gordon McArthur, Dominic Thorne, Andrew Walker, Marc Gosselin and Linda Bard. (Ian Hicks / Facebook)

The McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department has come a long way from those early days.

Now, the small department has fifteen volunteers and three fire trucks. So if you're ever in the Cariboo region needing help, Ian and his crew will jump into action— even if further assistance is needed from larger departments. 

"One of our people might only live five minutes away, and they're going to get that text and go: 'Oh my god, that's Bobby's place, that's just down the street,' and they're going to get over there in that critical time."

But while the fire department might have proximity to the community on their side, Hicks says they still lack resources.

They're going to get over there in that critical time.- Ian Hicks

"We currently don't have a fire hall. Without a fire hall you have no home base," said Hicks, "A fire hall will make it so we can be warm and have trucks full of water in the winter time."

Although their team is small, Hicks said that having a local team of first responders has made a huge difference to the safety of the community.

During the devastating 2017 wildfire season, the McLeese Lake department was crucial in protecting the area. As a lightning-strike fire approached the community, it was their team that managed to hold back the flames.

"It would have grown to four miles wide and destroyed everything," said Hicks. "We stopped it. It was a pretty joyful situation. Even with our little ragtag group and our 35-year-old fire truck!"

The McLeese Lake Volunteer Fire Department after the devastating 2017 wildfires. (Ian Hicks / Facebook)