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Trio of Alberni Valley firefighters who died of job-related causes honoured in Ottawa

Canadian Firefighters Memorial took place on Sept. 11, 2022
Firefighters attend the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Ceremony in Ottawa. (PHOTO COURTESY PA FIRE DEPARTMENT)

Three fallen Alberni Valley firefighters were honoured at a national memorial ceremony earlier this month.

During the Canadian Firefighters Memorial on Sept. 11, 2022, Carla Kulczycki and Ron Suits of the Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department had their names added to a memorial wall in Ottawa. Brian Brick, former deputy chief for the Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Department, also had his name added to the wall.

The Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosts this memorial service annually to honour and remember firefighters who have been killed in the line of duty and to support their families.

Brick and Kulczycki both died of work-related cancers, while Suits died at the scene of a barn fire in 2020.

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The annual memorial ceremony coincides with Firefighters’ National Memorial Day in Canada. This is the first time since 2019 that the service has taken place in-person, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years of recipients were honoured, with families from each in attendance.

“It was a very sombre ceremony,” said Sproat Lake VFD chief Mike Cann, who flew to Ottawa to attend the ceremony with deputy chief Derrick Cyr. “It went very well.”

Port Alberni Fire Department Chief Mike Owens also attended the ceremony.

Each year, a different fire department is chosen as the “honourary” host for the ceremony. This year’s host was the Calgary Fire Department, which was appropriate since Ron Suits spent 27 years with Calgary Fire before he moved to Vancouver Island.

The fire department had shuttles available for family members throughout the weekend, said Leanne, Ron’s wife. She attended the event with her daughter, Rebecca.

“There were all these little details that made you feel so important and so welcome,” she said. “The volunteers did an amazing job. I can’t speak highly enough of them.”

On Saturday, family members were presented with a memorial medallion. Sunday was the main ceremony, with a colour guard and procession. Family members received memorial helmets and were able to see the names of the fallen firefighters on the memorial wall.

“There were hundreds of people there,” Leanne recalled. “Firefighters from all over the place, plus the band, the pipers, the honour guard.”

She said it was a “bittersweet” ceremony. It’s now been just over two years since Ron passed away at the age of 69, after going into cardiac arrest while responding to a barn fire on McCoy Lake Road.

“It’s an honour,” Leanne said. “Even though it’s something you never want to have happen.”

Cann worked with both Kulczycki and Suits during their time at the Sproat Lake VFD and said it was good to see them honoured in this way.

“It was very emotional,” he added. “It’s also great to see the families be recognized for the loss and sacrifice they’ve gone through,” he added.

A total of 82 names were added to the memorial wall on Sept. 11. The memorial wall now features the names of 1,811 Canadians who have died in the line of duty.

“It was heartbreaking to see how many names were on that wall,” said Leanne. “Every one of those names had someone that loved them.”

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The family of Carla Kulczycki attended the memorial on Sept. 11, 2022. (PHOTO COURTESY MIKE CANN)
The family of Ron Suits stands beside the memorial wall with Sproat Lake deputy fire chief Derrick Cyr. (PHOTO COURTESY MIKE CANN)