After almost eight years with the Mission Fire Rescue Service, Larry Watkinson is going home.
The fire chief has decided to return to the Okanagan to become the new chief of the Penticton Fire Department.
“It’s been a great time. Coming in as assistant chief here was a good move for me and it was a position I was really looking forward to because it was in training and in fire prevention and operations which was my passion,” he said.
Originally from Kelowna, Watkinson came to the Lower Mainland to work with the Justice Institute, overseeing all firefighter training. But he missed the atmosphere of being in the firehall and responding to emergencies.
When he saw the Mission job posting for an assistant chief, he decided to go for it.
Once accepted, he worked with chief Ian Fitzpatrick for five years, until Fitzpatrick retired.
The search was on for a new chief in Mission but Watkinson didn’t apply.
“I was still happy in my role.”
But Mission’s city manager and mayor contacted him and asked if he wanted to be appointed as chief.
“I said, with the right tools in place, yeah.”
As assistant chief, Watkinson had witnessed some difficult times at the Mission station.
“The financials were pretty tight.”
When he took the job, the district didn’t fill the assistant chief position.
“I was by myself. It was hard. There were a lot of challenges.”
But with changes in city hall, he said the vision for the fire department became more pro-active.
The empty positions were filled and more focus was put on the department.
“Right now things are really smooth running and the boat is just sailing itself. To be honest, I feel really comfortable leaving right now because I know they’ll be just fine without me at the helm,” he said.
When he took the job, he had set goals to fill.
“I was hired to be one of the leading people in the transition from a strictly paid, on-call fire department to a composite model where we have career firefighters.”
He was also on hand to negotiate the first two collective agreements and to oversee the move to a 24-hour model where a three-person truck is on duty.
“These are good days.”
But the job is still demanding, not just for Watkinson, but his whole family.
“How many times I’ve left my family at the dinner table, I couldn’t count,” he said in regard to emergency calls to which he frequently responds.
The decision to leave was hard for Watkinson but family came first.
“Primarily, it is all to do with moving my family back to the Okanagan. After adopting our boys (Kodie and Spencer), we realized it takes more than just parents to raise a family,” he said.
He knows the value of having the support of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, all of whom are in the Okanagan.
He was already traveling back and forth to visit relatives, so when the job opportunity came up in Penticton, he and his wife, Christina, were keen to go back.
Today is Watkinson’s last day on the job. He starts in Penticton on Feb. 1.
“I’ll miss the people the most. Mission was just an incredible community to come into with my family. I love where I live out in Hatzic. I hike the trails every day. We love the wilderness here. I’ve never once run into somebody that’s been rude or not pleasant to me. I’ve always had 100 per cent respect from the community as fire chief.”