It’s not a day that comes often, but one that after a few years on the job anyone can look forward to. For most people, it only happens once so it is something to celebrate and be proud of.
Jon Bonneschranz worked his last shift with the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue Department this past week and retired with the rank of captain after 22 years of service to the people of Prince Rupert. He is hanging up his helmet and in place is taking home a life of memories and the first Prince Rupert issued life-saving award.
Straight out of high school Jon did what a lot of Prince Rupert graduates do and jumped into the fishing industry where he spent the first 12 years of his working life.
As a commercial fisherman part of that job was to obtain navigational tickets, which included a marine fire fighting certification.
“That’s kind of what inspired me when I did the marine firefighting part of that. It tweaked my interest to take a few other courses,” he said.
At the time in the commercial fishing industry his job took him away a lot, he said. Being out of town took him away for six months or more.
“I was going to be starting a family at some point and I wanted to be home more,” Jon said. “The fire department caught my interest because it was based in town.”
Jon was 32 years old when he started at the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue Department, and his daughter was born soon after, followed by his son a couple of years later.
Jon loved being on land able to be around as his kids grew up. He was a Tai Kwon Do dad supporting his children as they worked towards their various coloured belts. He filled his days when not at the department with fishing and travelling with the family. When his children were young they would hitch up the trailer and drive around the province going to Summerland and once driving down the Oregon Coast. A big trip once was to Hawaii.
His job on the fire crew allowed him to bond with his family, he said.
“I think you definitely realize how precious life is,” Jon said.
Life at times can become stressful working in a small-town fire department like in Prince Rupert, he said. It can especially become stressful for a spouse.
“When you hear the sirens, spouses know that there is only one fire department. They know that we are the only game in town,” he said.
“Being in a small town, it’s pretty hard to get away from. I think with Facebook and everything word gets out so fast when something bad is going on.”
While he is looking forward to the slower days of retirement being spent with his wife, there are aspects of his career he said he going to miss.
“The [crew at] the Firehall was my second family. There’s a comradery and brotherhood that we all have for each other. I’m sure we’ll still have that, but there are parts of that I will definitely miss.”
There is always an adrenaline rush that goes along with the job he said, which he will miss too.
He said he remembers when he first started at the PRFR being told because it was a smaller town rescue department that there was a much higher probability that not everyone could be saved and despite exhaustive efforts with CPR not everyone can be brought back.
“We have such a quick response in this town and I’ve been on several calls where we have gotten a person back.” He remembers one lady who was released from the hospital the very next day.
“The idea of having a good fire department, along with the ambulance – between the two of us it’s a quick response,” he said of the relationship between the fire department and ambulance which works closely and well together.”
Over the years he has seen the fire rescue squad at a peak of 20 firefighters and has struggled through hard times as part of the team when they were down to just 12 firefighters about 10 years ago. The Prince Rupert department is back to a present 18 members, divided into two squads.
Jon stressed that having the manpower is what makes the difference, especially when needing to save a life. It doesn’t come down to one or two people to make a difference. Jon said it takes four people to effectively do CPR.
“You get tired, you’re switching out, you got somebody doing the bag and the breathing for the person, somebody else is doing CPR, somebody’s out getting the equipment. Basically, you’re doing a little marathon and to be effective at it, you need manpower.”
The retiring fire captain said it all comes down to working as a team. Having the correct number of team members coming together is what makes the difference and that is vital to the response and outcome, he said. He will carry with him two specific calls, one of a young child and the other of an elderly lady where life-saving efforts of the team made a difference to their survival.
Life-saving tactics and operations change from call to call depending on the circumstance. In an Oct. 2020 fire where a downtown 11 unit apartment building was engulfed the fire-rescue department didn’t have the manpower in that moment to save the life needed.
“I think it came down to the training that we had gone over as a team that did make a difference,” he said. “I think it came down to asking the right questions when we were outside.”
Someone on the street told him there was a person still inside on the second floor who had not come out of the burning building. The firefighters who originally responded to the call were in need of back up which was still on the way. Using the ladder truck three firefighters accessed the second floor and located the male.
Having people there onsite to provide information and describe where the victim was located was a huge benefit, Bonneschranz said. Bystanders often tend to run away from a fire and correct information can be hard to obtain.
“We actually made entry into the building. It was totally black once we got into the building. We couldn’t see anything and we were relying on equipment that we had. The floor of the building was overwhelmed quite quickly.”
“So I think a little bit of luck helped out that night. And I feel very fortunate at how it turned out because it could have quite easily gone the other way.”
Jon and two other firefighters received commendation with the first-ever life-saving award issued by the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue Department for their efforts that night.
Being on the fire rescue crew has taught him many things over his 22 years but the main thing is about this community.
“I think you get to see how great of a community that we do live in. There are a lot of people that stand up and look out for each other in this smaller community. I think being in the fire service, you do get to see how individuals do look out for each other.”
That aspect alone can be good and bad, the seasoned officer said.
“It’s a pretty tight community in that respect … because sometimes you see the hardship that a lot of people go through dealing with [an incident]. You might deal with the person [on an emergency call] one day and you see him a week later. You just know the tough times that people are going through.”
Jon’s final words on his time in the Prince Rupert Fire Rescue Department are, “I am honoured to have received the award from my peers and proud to have served my community for 22 years.”