Balancing business with firefighting

Amar Bal, the owner of Esso and Chevron, and James Macdonald, co-owner of The Nomad, balance work with firefighting.

Amar Bal is the owner of the Chevron and Esso gas station stores in Revelstoke

This summer, Amar Bal worked for almost four months straight. As the owner of the Esso station store since 2014, and the Chevron store since earlier this year, the busy summer months mean little respite for him and his wife Amrit.

To top it off, Amar also serves as a volunteer firefighter.

“It’s helping community in any way I can,” he said. “It’s nice I can help the community to be safe, so the fire department is the best way to do that.”

Bal, who immigrated to Canada from India and 2009, and came to Revelstoke two years ago, is one of several business owners that balance work duties with those of a volunteer firefighter. It means attending training sessions every Wednesday evening and rushing out on calls at the drop of a hat.

Bal attends every call he can when he’s not at work. So far, that means going out about once a week.

“The time when I joined, I told them I’d be running a business, so whenever I’m here, I won’t be able to leave,” he said. “If I have staff at the same time, I’ll leave for the call right away. It’s been working out pretty well right until now.”

James Macdonald also balances the demand of firefighting with owning a business. He and James Bacon who is also a firefighter purchased the Nomad took over ownership of the popular restaurant at the end of July.

“It’s given us roots,” said Macdonald. “It’s a huge opportunity. It’s been around for quite a while, it has a good name to it and the food is great.”

Taking over the restaurant at the height of the tourist season has made for a busy summer for Macdonald. On top of work, he goes to fire calls and is on the highway rescue team.

“I’m still keeping my call attendance up and my training attendance up, plus I’m the treasurer for our society as well,” he said. “I pick one day a week and I’ll have some social life for one day, or I’ll fit things in here and there to keep up.”

He schedules his week on Sunday so he knows what needs to get done, that way when he’s called into duty, he knows what work is left when he gets back. “It’s a delicate balancing act. It doesn’t take much to throw you off. I’ve had to really discipline myself,” he said.

Bal isn’t on the highway rescue team yet, but he’s eager to join. His most intense call was the fire at the Stella Jones pole yard in May. He was on the scene for seven hours in 35 C weather.

“It was crazy being that close to a fire. It was not a small one, it was really a big one,” he said. “It was tough but it was exciting too.”

When asked if he had advice for other business owners thinking of joining the fire department, Bal said:

“It’s a small town. In any way, if you have time, I think you should do anything,” he said. “I love doing what I do with the fire hall. It’s really OK for me to run the business on one side and be available for any kind of calls. I’m happy being in this town.”