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Shuswap grandmother dispels firefighting stereotype

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District says volunteer firefighter Lester McInally, 73, is an integral part of the White Lake Fire Department, helping with safety protocols and staging at fire scenes. White Lake Fire Department

Lester McInally is not your typical grandmother.

McInally is 73 years old – 13 years over the mandatory retirement age for frontline firefighters. But that hasn’t stopped her from being an integral part of the White Lake Fire Department.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District says not all volunteers haul hoses or go into burning buildings, and that members who act in support roles can be just as critical to the department.

Lester McInally trains with her colleagues at the White Lake Fire Department every Tuesday night at 7 p.m. White Lake Fire Department

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Every time her pager goes off, she heads to the fire hall, suits up and gets on the truck.

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“I’ve never been one to pick up a hose, but I’m part of the team,” she said, “just being there volunteering.”

McInally’s role has shifted during her 17 years with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District Fire Department. Most of her work involves keeping track of all active personnel on scene and managing rest breaks.

McInally also acts as a scribe for the fire chief to ensure accurate records are kept for every incident.

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“Accountability is very important. It’s something we take very seriously,” she said. “It’s for everyone’s safety.”

McInally and her husband moved to the area 17 years ago and decided to get involved in the fire department.

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“I wanted to live somewhere rural but with a fire hall,” said McInally. “That’s important for safety and insurance. So we just felt like if we wanted this, we should support it.”

Lester McInally, middle, is a volunteer with the White Lake Fire Department. Anyone interested in volunteering at a Columbia Shuswap fire department can visit iwww.csrd.bc.ca. White Lake Fire Department

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The oldest member to retire that she knows of was 75, and McInally plans to match that mark.

Volunteering at the fire hall feels “like a home,” she said. “You see someone with a fire jacket on somewhere in the community and you have an instant connection because you have firefighting in common.”

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