After a two-year break during the pandemic, honourary firefighter Richard McNaughton has been reunited with his crew in Delta, B.C.
McNaughton, 39, has special bond with the Delta Fire Department. For the past two decades, he has been an enthusiastic volunteer and morale booster for the team.
He helped run the department’s open house on Saturday, the first once since the pandemic began, and called it an “honour.” He ran up to Fire Chief Guy McKintock and received a great big hug.
“It’s been an amazing time with the guys,” McNaughton told Global News. “I’ve just been helping them out and having a good time.”
McNaughton has Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects physical and mental development. As a youngster, he would often wave to the firetrucks passing by his house, and eventually his neighbour, a Delta firefighter, brought him in to meet the crew.
It didn’t take long for the Delta Fire Department to make him part of the team, equipping him with a uniform emblazoned with his nickname, ‘Winston.’ Inspired by a film character, it was given to him by a firefighter who noticed he would dance around with the air packs, singing ‘Ghostbusters.’
“I made the critical error of referring to him as Richard once and he straightened me out pretty quick and said, ‘No it’s Winston, it’s not Richard, I’m Winston here,'” said Dan Copeland, retired fire chief.
“He commands a crowd, he gets people involved. He’s just a real special person in our world and he’s loved by everybody here.”
McNaughton is also a familiar face at the Delta Police Department and with paramedics who work in the Lower Mainland city. He has their logos propped up in his window, and has volunteered for all of them.
His sister, Marcia McNaughton, said she believes he fell in love with uniforms because their dad was a Port Moody police officer.
“He lives, eats, breathes, sleeps firemen. He loves getting dressed up, loves coming to these open houses. I’m so proud to see him here doing this,” she told Global News on Saturday.
“Everybody gravitates toward him.”
When he’s not fulfilling his duties as an honourary firefighter, McNaughton plays floor hockey, basketball, bocce and competes in the Special Olympics. He has also been a feature of the Ladner May Days parade.
“Richard is helpful in more ways than he actually knows,” said McKintock, who can’t remember a time at the Delta Fire Hall No. 3 without him.
“He is so positive and always so happy … he’s always here to help with events, and has helped out the moral of our department over his term that he’s been with us.”
Former Delta mayor Lois Jackson agreed, describing McNaughton as a “very special person” with a “wonderful smile,” who is always willing to help.
The social isolation of COVID-19 has been tough on him, his caregiver told Global News. She said she’s “eternally happy and grateful” that the Delta Fire Department has helped make his dreams come true.
“It’s been really rough on him because he’s such a social person. He loves to get out and about. He’s one of the guys,” Marlene Graham explained.
“He’s so happy that they’re back. The joy is all over his face.”
The Delta firefighters said they feel the same way.