He’s been a high school teacher and a fire chief, but after 27 years in Tumbler Ridge, Matt Treit is moving on.
“It’s nothing bad or negative,” he says. “A different opportunity came along, and I decided to take it.”
Treit has been hired to the position of Protective Services in the District of Coldstream. In this newly created role, Treit will oversee the District’s Emergency Management and Occupational Health & Safety programs as well as conduct Fire Inspections and Fire Investigations.
Coldstream, he says, has two fire halls, but both are run by volunteer chiefs. “I’ll be working with the two volunteer chiefs to build on what they have there in terms of record keeping training. Because they’re volunteers, they can only do so much, and a lot of stuff is not getting done.”
Treit says when he first saw the job posted, he didn’t even know where Coldstream was. That, he says, is like when he moved to Tumbler Ridge.
“I graduated from UBC in August of 1989 without a job,” he says. “I had a buddy, Steve Benty, who had just got a job up north. He called and said there was a job for me in Tumbler Ridge. I said I wasn’t going to move. To me, the north was a vast wasteland. He says ‘come here and get some experience’. I said ‘no, I’m not going.’
Eventually, however, the promise of a job outweighed the fear of the north, and in September of 1989 Treit loaded up everything he could fit in his Chevy F-10 and drove up to Tumbler Ridge to spend a year teaching. At least, that was the plan.
“One year turned into two, two turned into five, five into ten, ten into 20,” he says. “I adapted my lifestyle to the north, and have been here all this time. I didn’t even know what a quad was when I moved up here. But you adapt. What the town has to offer, you get involved. Then the kids come along, and it’s a great place to raise kids.”
In 1993, Treit started as volunteer firefighter. Again, it was a position he was talked into, this time by Mike Lavine. “I was a volunteer for 16 years, and had done a lot of training. So when the job of chief became available in 2009 I thought I could do it.”
Treit says, that, while he enjoyed teaching, he was looking for a new challenge. “Teaching is a challenging job, but any worthwhile job is challenging. It was just time for a change. I was doing things with the fire department as a deputy chief on a volunteer basis. And I felt that if I moved over, I wouldn’t have to mark any more English essays. I have never regretted the move over. I miss working with kids and with the people there. The school has had some amazing staff members over the years. A lot of really good people have gone through that school.
“For the first five to ten years of my time at the school, there was a lot of turnover. The average stay here was two years. Al Johnson had been here for four years when I got here and I thought how could anyone stay here for that long? It blew me away how anyone could do that.”
But a lot of those good people have moved on, including his boys. “I always said I would stay in Tumbler until my kids graduated, and that’s happened now, so it was time to look at other opportunities.”
Coldstream, he says, has a lot to offer. While Treit has been in the north for nearly three decades, his family is all down south, and now he’s only a four or five hour drive away. “I went down and looked around the area. To the west is the Okanagan, to the east is the Kootanays. It’s the best of both worlds.”
And, he says, he knows people in the area. His boss down there used to work in Tumbler Ridge. Trevor Seibel, former Chief Financial Officer for the District of Tumbler Ridge is now the CAO in Coldstream.
Still, after 27 years, Treit says it will be hard to leave. “I’m going to miss the people,” he says. “I’ve met so many great people here. And I’m going to miss the fall. I actually just went out and bought a deadbolt for my door, because the whole time I’ve been here, I’ve never locked the door.”
Of course, he says, he’s not going to miss the isolation. “It’s very time consuming to go and see family, either a 12 hour drive or a fairly expensive flight. But Tumbler Ridge gave me my first teaching opportunity, and my first opportunity to be a fire chief. They were great experiences.”
He says that in his time here, he’s seen a lot of nasty car accidents and other incidents. “You go on a call out to a cardiac arrest, and you do your best and it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped it was. You rely on the other members of the department and hope for a better result. In all the time I did CPR, I had one person who came back and survived. You have a whole bunch you lose, and it gets disheartening. You get ten of those in a row and you feel like it’s never going to work. But then you get a win and it’s nice to have.”
Any last words for the people of Tumbler Ridge? Yes, he says. “Wear your helmets on ATVs, wear your seatbelts in your car and change the batteries in your smoke alarms.”