At home with former fire chief Tom Beer
Tom Beer grew up in a strict home but even so, that didn’t stop him from getting into mischief on more than one occasion. “I remember one time I managed to get my hands on a bunch of candy and was sharing it around. Then another fellow got his hands on some but he wouldn’t share with me. One day after school, I taught him that not sharing with me wasn’t the right thing to do. Dad was passing by just as I was giving him the lesson and he didn’t do anything right then and there. He told me to run on home but when he got there, he sure gave me what for,” he laughed.
Tom was born in Saskatchewan but his family moved out west when he was just one. “I’ve been here pretty much most of my life so for me, Chilliwack is home. My dad was farming back in Saskatchewan but after five, consecutive years of drought on the prairie, my family decided to pull out and move out to BC, where the grass was a lot greener,” he smiled. The family settled on a small farm in Rosedale and his mom looked after the farm while his father began working in a logging camp. “We borrowed a cow. We weren’t totally destitute but there sure wasn’t much money around,” he said.
After 11 years in Rosedale, the family rented a much bigger farm in Atchelitz. “We moved using a horse and wagon. I used to milk five cows everyday. I would milk them in the morning, before going to school and again in the evening. There were no milking machines in those days so we all pitched in. There were six of us kids and we all had duties.”
When Tom hit junior high, his father sold all of his assets and the family moved into Chilliwack and having left farm life behind him; his father took on a job with the City’s public works department. “Dad would check the sewer pumps; patch up streets and that sort of thing. After grade ten, I left school and the reason was partly financial. Our family was struggling a bit and I had to help out,” he explained.
His brother Alf was working in a saw mill in Hope and when the company was looking for extra help, Tom landed the job. “I was there for two years. Then one November, there was a flash flood and the mill was shut down. The company owned another mill up in Quesnel and they asked if we wanted to go up there. We ended up staying for three years,” he said.
Living in Quesnel was quite the experience for the two brothers. Tom was absolutely fastidious when it came to keeping his car clean. “During the winter, the water on the lakes would freeze but I would cut a hole in the ice to get enough water to wash my car before heading into town. They always wondered how I could have such a clean car in winter. I always liked keeping my cars clean,” he chuckled.
After three years, Alf ended up getting married and was moving back down to the coast and Tom realized that it was time to head back too. “I began looking for work and for a little while I worked at Freeland Macken Sawmill in Chilliwack. Then, I decided that I needed steadier work because Gwen and I were getting married too. I started working at the City, operating heavy equipment. That’s what I did mostly although I did a variety of other jobs too.”
After starting with the City, there was a recruitment campaign for volunteer firefighters and both Alf and Tom decided to join the fire department. “I took a real interest in it and began taking courses. After being a volunteer fireman for four years, I became the volunteer assistant fire chief,” he said. In 1969, Tom became the volunteer fire chief and the following year, he was elevated to the position of career fire chief; remaining in that position until his retirement in 1993. “I really enjoyed the job. There were some tough moments but overall, they were good years. I quite enjoyed the investigations aspect of the job. There’s a lot to it and we worked quite closely with the police. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie. I worked with a good bunch of guys and the council was pretty good too,” he reflected.
Almost 20 years after retiring, Tom continues to keep busy. "I enjoy woodworking, travelling, gardening and fishing. I’m also involved in my church and am a member of the Chilliwack Kiwanis Club. I have always enjoyed doing odd jobs for people and now that I’m retired, I continue to do so. It’s all good. I can’t really complain,” he said, with a quick smile.