CTV viewer recovers stolen fire truck
A fire truck stolen from the tiny community of East Gate, B.C., has been recovered thanks to a CTV viewer who saw the story and took up his own skyward search.
The specially outfitted 1997 Ford F-350 truck, stolen overnight on Saturday from an access road near Princeton, was one of only two fire vehicles in the region. It is the only "rapid attack" vehicle capable of quickly reaching out-of-the-way places in the mountainous and often fire-prone region.
Dean Russell, a Langley paramedic and private helicopter pilot, said he felt moved after reading the story on CTV's website and decided he'd do whatever he could to help get the vehicle back to the volunteer force.
"I couldn't stand to see firefighters without their truck when I had something to do about it," he told ctvbc.ca from his home Thursday morning.
"It's such a small community and they need it so badly."
Russell, on a day off work, decided to fly to East Gate and speak with the fire chief himself about their problem. At the station he picked up volunteer firefighter Jim Bolenback and took to the skies above Manning Park to look for the truck.
"You have such a unique perspective from the helicopter. It's very mountainous terrain and it lets you get places that cars can't get," Russell said.
After flying east of the community for around two hours Russell was about to give up. But a flash caught his eye when he headed for home, going west.
"Bingo. Right there."
He found the truck, abandoned, in a three-tiered gravel extraction pit just a little west of the Manning Park Lodge just past 2 p.m. Wednesday.
"Thousands of people had driven within a few hundred feet of it. But it wasn't visible from the road," he said.
Russell and Bolenback landed and started surveying the damage. Thieves had stripped the truck of virtually all of its metal parts, including the aluminum doors and brass fittings for the fire hoses. They even stole the radio.
"There wasn't much left for them to steal at all after they were done with it," Sgt. Dave Clare of the Princeton RCMP said.
The metal will likely end up at a scrap dealer in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, he added. The RCMP is asking for dealers to call them if they see someone trying to unload brass fittings in the next few days.
Clare said the East Gate Volunteer Fire Department was "over the moon" to hear the truck was found.
"They are absolutely elated they have their vehicle back," he said. "They are quite disappointed about the equipment – this is a huge financial burden for them."
The truck has been sent to Chilliwack for repairs and insurance estimates.
Clare credits Russell's selflessness for volunteering his time and helicopter to help the search.
"It shows a lot about his character," he said. "He had no reason to help the people of East Gate but he did -- and it means a lot.
But the softspoken Russell is playing down his role in the case, only saying that he felt compelled to do the right thing.
"The ambulance service works closely with the fire department all the time and they always do a lot to help us out," he said.
"It's nice when we can give a little back."