World News

Deputy fire chief cooks up saucy fundraiser for under-resourced volunteer departments | CBC News


Move over, calendars — there’s a new, saucier firefighter fundraiser in town. 

A volunteer firefighter in British Columbia’s Cariboo region has come up with what he hopes will be a mouth-watering solution to a lack of funding for volunteer fire services in his area, and beyond. 

Mark Wilkie, 61, deputy fire chief of Big Lake Volunteer Fire Rescue, has come up with a fundraiser program similar to how children sell chocolate bars or coupon books to raise money for their schools.

But instead of coupons, he’s selling sauce.

It all started back in 2016 when Wilkie, who has worked for decades in the gourmet food industry, was living in Surrey, B.C. He and his wife decided they needed a change of pace, and through what he describes as a series of “serendipitous” events, they ended up in Big Lake, a community off Highway 97 about 300 kilometres north of Kamloops, B.C.

A year later, their community was threatened by wildfires. They were ordered to evacuate but Wilkie says he chose to stay to defend his new home. During that time, he says, he connected with his local community and was later asked to join the local volunteer fire department, since climbing the ladder to become deputy fire chief. 

“It was just an inspiring time,” he said. “I had such an appreciation for the people in the community and what they did.”

A man wearing firefighting gear stands with his arms crossed in front of a fire truck, smiling.
Mark Wilkie was inspired to join Big Lake Volunteer Fire Rescue after he helped the community when it was threatened by wildfire. (Submitted by Mark Wilkie)

Joining the department also gave him a taste of just how much it costs to train firefighters and replace equipment. 

“You don’t have a choice, these things have to be replaced to keep up to standards for liability,” he said. 

So, he started thinking of things he could do to help raise money for his local firehall. 

Having more than 36 years of experience in the food industry, working everywhere from restaurants to catering and manufacturing, he settled on a saucy fundraiser. 

He’s developed three flavours: Ol’ Smokey barbecue sauce, Smoke Jumper steak sauce and Firehouse garlic pepper hot sauce. They’re sold in a three-pack under the banner of Firehall Classics Gourmet, with net proceeds going to Big Lake Volunteer Fire Rescue. 

A package of three bottles of sauce that reads Thank you for supporting your local volunteer fire department
The three-pack of sauce Mark Wilkie is using to raise funds for his firehall and, he hopes, other volunteer firehalls. (Submitted by Mark Wilkie)

Wilkie hopes the fundraiser will spread to other firehalls, who can purchase the three-packs to sell.

Paul Boissonneault, secretary with the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, says it’s not unusual for volunteer fire departments to raise funds. 

“Many of our volunteer fire departments continue to have to think outside the box for things that are necessities for the community,” he said. 

Using sauce to raise money, he said, makes good sense — because firefighters love to cook. 

“Some of the best breakfast you could ever get is probably from a firehouse kitchen table,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride in being able to concoct the greatest chili or the greatest barbecue.”

Wilkie hopes other departments will see what he’s doing in Big Lake and follow suit. 

“From a community engagement standpoint, I think it’s a fun thing to do,” he said. “But from a fundraising aspect, I just wish there was funding there so we didn’t have the need to do this.”


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button