When Riley Creighton first walked into the Revelstoke fire hall less than two years ago, he was still in high school and wasn’t even old enough to vote.
“I’m easily the youngest guy there,” he told me. “I walk in the room and my friends, it’s their dads that are volunteers. I grew up with their kids.”
Creighton, now 19, is probably best known in the community as the Revelstoke Grizzlies pugilist. He joined the team two years ago and quickly established a reputation as a fearless fighter and hard worker.
I met up with him right after the Grizzlies tilt against 100 Mile on Friday. He was bare chested and sweaty after the hard-fought win. We talked about what it was like being a hockey player and being the youngest volunteer fire fighter in town.
“I’ve had to mature a bit there, they probably wondered why I was here,” he said. “I’ve grown a lot. I’m trying to take on more responsibility there but everyone is a vet there.”
Fire chief Rob Girard recalled one of Creighton’s first training sessions. “When he spoke on the radio for the first time, he couldn’t stop giggling,” Girard said in an e-mail. “We had not taught the recruits radio protocol yet and Riley had never talked on a radio before. Before long he had all of us with smiles on our faces as he grasped this new concept.”
Creighton followed his brother Sean, who is a career firefighter, into the force. Riley was still in grade 12 and trying to figure out a career path when he decided to sign up as a volunteer.
The atmosphere is similar to being on a hockey team he said. “It’s a brotherhood. Everybody there’s got your back,” he said. “It’s amazing. The people are all bros. It’s pretty similar to walking in a locker room. When you walk in everyone gives you a ‘What’s up?’”
Creighton goes out to all calls that come in – house fires, truck fires, a few malfunctioning water heaters. He was on the CP Rail bridge when it caught fire in May. “It’s pretty scary when you’re on the planks because you don’t know how long they’ve been burning for,” he said. “You’re standing on wood that’s been on fire for three hours. I don’t know if that’s OK or not but it worked out.”
Part of the job entails dealing with tragedy, something he dealt with when a man died in a fire in Arrow Heights on January. Creighton said he knew the family and he knew the victim was still inside as the battled the blaze.
“At the time you’re just doing everything you can to put that fire out,” he said. “You don’t know if he’s locked up, trying to stay OK. That one got way out of control. It was literally spray as much water as we can to get it out. It wasn’t good at the time.
“That wasn’t a fun one at all.”
I asked Creighton if there were skills that transferred from hockey to firefighting. “I think work ethic,” he replied. “If somebody’s telling you to do something, you get that job done. If they need ventilation, they need ventilation done. You get the job done, that’s key.”
He also mentioned cardio. “When you got that mask on you get half the air you should,” he said. “I’m asthmatic. I don’t think it’s in my medical record but that was definitely a challenge for me at first. Even after a fire you’re coughing up stuff for a few days after.”
Girard said Creighton has fit in well at the fire hall and said he is dedicated to training and answering calls. “He has great drive and dedication which is a real asset in firefighting,” said Girard.
Finally, I asked Creighton about the Grizzlies, who are off to a 2-5-0-1 start this year. The team has undergone wholesale change since the first game of the season and Creighton has been put on defence lately as coach Darren Naylor firms up his roster. “We’re starting to pull it together,” he said. “Brandoli is keeping us in some games.”
He’s also had to make adjustments to his game due to new rules that offer much bigger punishments for fighting. It’s forced him to tone down his pugilist side; he was hoping to double his fight total this year.
“I’m a lot more experienced than I was when I first got one-punched by (current teammate Wade) Cliner,” he said. “I though now I can probably have a lot more fun doing it, so I would much rather have that rule change back.”
Creighton said this is likely his last year in the KIJHL, even though he has one year of eligibility left. “I don’t think my mom’s going to let me live at home after this. I’m probably going to fire school next year, that’s my goal,” he said. “I want to get everything I can out of a program. Some of them are two months but I want to do the good one.”