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In Our Valley: Rick Thompson

Former Kitimat firefighter paramedic spreads smiles though snowmobiles, fishing
Rick Thompson joined by a sea lion on his boat. (Rick Thompson/Submitted Photo)

Rick Thompson, 58, is living his dream.

Born in Melfort, Sask., Thompson was raised on the prairies and moved to Kitimat for work in 1982, followed by his brothers.

“Maybe with regret, the family farm was sold and life moves on, everybody has landed on their feet,” he said.

Now, he never wants to leave.

“I love Kitimat, you couldn’t get me out of here if you tried.”

“Crab fishing by day, snowmobile by night, that’s one expression but all kinds of services, recreational facilities, the people, there are great people here.”

Thompson has been the Kitimat Snowmobile and Hiking Club’s president for the past three years. He gravitated to snowmobiles in his youth and has been a part of the club, which started in the 1970s, for most of his time in Kitimat.

The club boasts two cabins, a groomer and a network of provincially designated trails. As the club’s president, Thompson works to make sure everything runs smoothly, including trail maintenance, working with the local and provincial governments and nearby snowmobile clubs.

He said that since the COVID-19 pandemic started, there has been more interest in snowmobiles because it is one of the few activities that can be done safely.

“You can pick up yourself a decent snowmobile and you are up into the meadows playing around, getting a good workout, it’s good clean fun.”

Now retired, Thompson worked as a firefighter paramedic in Kitimat.

“It’s a lot of training, a lot of dedication, there’s high angle rescue, confined space rescue, extrication, all those things are very, very challenging never mind just plain firefighting and I delivered a baby, pulled an old man out of a burning building, things like that,” he said.

“You get lots of bad things but sometimes you get a good thing and it really makes it all worthwhile.”

But Thompson said being a paramedic firefighter never really crossed his mind when he was younger, although he did have a firefighting experience as a child.

When he lived on the family farm in Saskatchewan, a controlled burn jumped a fire guard and threatened his neighbor’s house. He and his brother rushed over and used shovels to throw dirt on the brush fire while the local fire department was on the way.

They managed to keep the fire at bay until firefighters could arrive.

“The fireman looked at me and he goes ‘hey young fella, you like putting out fire eh?,’” Thompson said.

“He goes ‘well hop in the fire truck,’ it’s like something out of a movie, he drove down to the creek where the fire was still burning and he was putting a hydro pole out which was on fire, threw shovelfuls of dirt up it, that’s how he put that out, and then he took the fire truck and drove up the road and sprayed water.”

When Thompson moved to Kitimat, he worked as a live-in dispatcher for the fire department. At night he answered calls, dispatching firefighters, controlling traffic lights and recording times.

On his first call, his childhood memory sparked in his mind, and the fire chief encouraged Thompson to get some training and the department would look into hiring him.

Thompson was well equipped to handle the physical aspects of the job, having been an athlete and Saskatchewan basketball provincial champion in high school. He was offered scholarships to play basketball at university.

“I wasn’t too fond of school, I wasn’t crazy about books and maybe in hindsight with a paid scholarship I could have gone into medicine or something had I known I had a knack for it, you know with becoming a paramedic,” he said.

Around 20 years ago, Thompson wanted to build an extension onto his home in Kitimat, but ran into problems with the city. He then considered building a lake or ski cabin. He ended up building the Tookus Inn fishing lodge, and works as a guide during the summer months, while also offering some water taxi services.

“It’s a lot of fun, it’s amazing when people get a fish on, you take a picture when someone’s got a fish on and 99 times out of 100 I’m sure you’d see a smile on their face and that’s a really good feeling,” he said.

A lot has changed in the time he’s been running the lodge. Fewer companies offer fishing trips to their employees. Decreasing fish stocks have resulted tighter regulations and smaller limits. Guides used to recieve a regulations book at the start of the season. Thompson said that now, everything is online so it can be difficult for guides who are not computer savvy or in remote locations to adapt to in-season changes.

Still, the thrills and special moments remain.

“When you look back on it, it’s certainly quality time, you know life is short so get out and do those things you really want to do, and I find that quite rewarding actually to help put a smile on people’s face.”

Thompson plans to keep fishing and riding his snowmobile as he gets older.

“[I’ll] probably just keep relaxing, you know, live the dream.”


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