For Lantzville’s newest fire chief, Neil Rukus, firefighting is a family affair.
“We were pretty much bred to be firefighters growing up with my dad being a firefighter and my brothers later on,” Rukus told the News Bulletin.
Neil Rukus’s father, Ron, was a firefighter for 20 years with the North Cowichan-Crofton Fire Department. His older brothers Paul and Ken also became firefighters and served with the Crofton department. Paul, who died from cancer this year, was Crofton’s fire chief between 1994-1998, a position now held by Ken.
“I can remember my dad would toss me in the car and we would go to these fire calls back in the day,” Rukus recalled. “Back then, it was different. It wasn’t like it is today.”
Rukus was named the second-ever paid part-time fire chief for Lantzville Fire Rescue last month, replacing former chief Rob Chatton, who retired earlier this year. Rukus has only had a few weeks to settle into his new role, but he is pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“It’s a good group of guys,” Rukus said. “I think they have a really good foundation here.”
Rukus joins the Lantzville department after a year with the Qualicum Beach Fire Department and 24 years with the North Cowichan Fire Department, which include six years as fire chief in Chemainus. Rukus first became a firefighter back in 1991 when he, just like his brothers, joined Crofton’s fire department.
“I’ve been a Crofton firefighter, a Chemainus firefighter, a Qualicum firefighter and now I am here,” he said. “I’ve got lots of different areas to pull from.”
Rukus, who also runs a business called Aggressive Fire Safety, said the move to Qualicum Beach was so that his wife could be closer to her new job in the Comox Valley.
“Qualicum Beach was a mid-point for us,” Rukus said. “I went back down to being a firefighter but of course once you’ve been in that chief’s role you miss it. You always want to be there.”
Rukus said he is a community-oriented type of fire chief who wants the department to become more visible within Lantzville.
“I like being able to go and talk to people and the ability to go and help them out. I am the kind of chief that is heavily involved in the community,” he said. “I like to see the fire department out in the community doing things as opposed to practising in the backlot where no one can see them. I want the fire department to be front and centre.”
The volunteer fire department is currently in the middle of a recruitment drive for new firefighters. Rukus said he’s pleased with the number of applications received so far, but knows only a few will actually become Lantzville volunteer firefighters.
Rukus said the department has a self-imposed rule that requires recruits to live within five kilometre of the fire hall. He said he is reviewing the rule and is not against bringing in firefighters who live beyond that boundary.
“I am not completely sold on not taking guys from outside the area,” he said. “If those fire halls are full and guys are available and they are useful to us I am interested in them for sure.”
The fire department has also been looking at acquiring a new fire truck to replace its existing one, which is nearing the end of its service life. District staff have budgeted $400,000 next year to pay for its replacement; however, Lantzville councillors still need approve the financial plan.
“It is time to replace the pumper tanker truck,”Rukus said. “It’s not a matter of it has to be done tomorrow, but it has definitely seen its day and it is time for a new one.”
In addition to being a business owner and fire chief, Rukus recently added actor to his resumé after appearing with fellow firefighters from the Qualicum Beach Fire Department in the television show Chesapeake Shores, filmed throughout Vancouver Island.
“It was pretty fun. It makes you understand a lot better about how much time goes into making a show,” Rukus said. “We probably spent eight hours filming probably 30 seconds worth of time for a car accident scene.”