Puntzi Lake man helped fight fire while his home burned to the ground
As his house burned to the ground, Geordie Ferguson was doing what he always does: thinking about others.
“I had a job to do,” says the man who loaded 29 planes with fire retardant on the day he lost his home next to Puntzi Lake.
“I could not put myself first. I could not hold my head down and pout and cry. I had planes to load, I had more houses to save. I had a community depending on me to do my job, and I did it.”
Ferguson works as a loader technician for ICL Canada. For the last eight years, he’s lived in a home on the shores of Puntzi Lake, driving 15 minutes each day to his job at the Royal Canadian Air Force station on Puntzi Mountain.
In the summer, he services the many planes using the base to fight fires throughout the Chilcotin and Cariboo regions.
“We supply the manpower, pumps and retardants to forestry for loading the aircraft for fighting the forest fires. Those guys are my heroes. The guys in the aircraft, the ground crew, everyone involved [in fighting fires] is a stellar person,” said Ferguson.
July 8 started no different for him. But as the fire northwest of Puntzi Lake continued to expand, Ferguson realized his home was probably gone.
“I knew my place was gone, I could tell by where the smoke was,” he says.
WATCH: More coverage on the Puntzi Lake fire
He made a quick call to a friend, who confirmed that while his house was gone, his dog had escaped and was being taken care of.
Then Ferguson went back to work. He’s stayed there, working and sleeping at the base, ever since.
“I don’t want to go anywhere else. Once I learned my dog was safe, I was staying here. Anyone who was trying to get me out of here, win lose or draw, it’d be one hell of a fight. I am here, I’m going to load planes,” he says.
“All I wanted could do is make sure I could save other people’s houses and some lives in between, and be supportive of ground crew. Everything else is immaterial.”
Ferguson lost everything but his dog, wallet, iPhone, iPad and pickup truck.
“I had a lot of things, but I can get new things. None of that matters to me. None of that is important in life. It’s what I signed up to do, and the job that I have is a proud, prestigious job, and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The humble work ethic is nothing new for Ferguson, who says he learned it from his father.
“I’m just a simple man, and everyone deserves more of a prop than I do. They hired me to load planes, and come hell or high water, I’m going to load planes,” he says.
“I was brought up old-school. There was no whining, or would ofs, or thinking about yourself. Think about others. And let’s get the job done, and we’ll work out all the other stuff later.”
He says he focused on the situation at hand by considering what everyone else going through.
“If I get mad and upset and all pouty about it and whiny, it’s won twice. It’s already burned my place, I’ll give you that victory and shake your hand. But to get down spirit? No damn way. That’s not my way. My inner spirit has to be strong for everyone around me…so they stay safe, and not get hurt, and keep their minds on their job,” he said.
“The most devastating to me is if someone fighting this forest fire got hurt or killed. That would hurt me more than anything in the world. I’ll always survive. I’ve got a lot of friends, and I know I’ve always got a couch to sleep on.”
Fundraising campaign set up
One of those couches belongs to David Wegner. A fellow technician with ICL Canada, Wegner travels the province, filling in for Ferguson and other technicians when they’re given relief.
“He’s quite the person,” says Wegner, who is currently stationed in Cranbrook.
“He thinks of literally everyone else before himself. Even when he’s going something through this, he’s thinking about other loaders and the pilots.”
Wegner was so inspired by Ferguson’s selflessness that he started a GoFundMe to help him get a new house.
The fundraising campaign has already raised more than $5,000, simply from people who personally know Ferguson.
He’s almost embarrassed by the attention.
“I don’t think I deserve it, but to keep them happy, I’ll accept everything. There’s people that need it more than me I think, but I can’t argue, and I don’t want to hurt any feelings. I’ll accept it in a proud and happy way, and go from there,” he says.
“I’m looking forward to this next journey in my life. The hardest thing for me right now is getting overwhelmed with everyone congratulating me, and all the care packages. I’m not used to being on this side of the table. Usually if somebody’s in need, I’d help them.”
Throughout his 20 minute conversation with Global News, Ferguson brought the discussion back to the crews battling a historic fire season across British Columbia no less than nine separate times.
“I just mix the retardant, put it on the plane and make sure I don’t walk into a propeller,” he says.
“The ground crew and everyone else, they’re the heroes. In the pacific air tanker centre, everyone in that centre deserves a medal.”
Ferguson may not get a medal. But he just may yet get a new home.
“I’ve met a lot of people around this province,” says Wegner.
“[I’ve] never really come across a person like him. ”