Don Brittain was a Coombs icon

Don Brittain at the Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department in 2005. Brittain was well-loved in the area, he died Feb. 6, 2011.          Submitted Photo - Submitted photo
Don Brittain at the Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department in 2005. Brittain was well-loved in the area, he died Feb. 6, 2011. Submitted Photo
— image credit: Submitted photo

He was a Coombs icon. Described by friends and family as kind, gentle and selfless, Don Brittain was a founding member of the Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Department, a fire chief for 19 years and an active member of the community. Yet following his death earlier this month the community wasn’t overcome with inconsolable sadness, instead a profound and cheerful buzz spread quickly throughout the region. One that celebrated the many lives Don touched, the people he helped, and the joy he brought to the area. “Don Brittain was the kind of person we don’t see any more,” said Ian MacDonald, a teacher and school administrator who has worked in the area for over 30 years. “He seemed to belong to a different age.” MacDonald explained that beyond caring for their own children Don and his widow Rose cared for many foster children in the area. They were very proactive in their relationship with teachers, administrators and other parents and were frequent parent volunteers. The couple also took a leadership role in 4H and were mentors for countless families in the community. Don was also a volunteer with Arrowsmith Search and Rescue. “He’s a guy who just totally dedicated himself to the community,” said Stephen Stahley, who worked with Don at the Coombs Fire Department for 15 years, “the community and people.” Stahley said no matter what time of day or night it was, if kids needed a safe place to go following a disaster they were taken to the loving home of Don and Rose. The couple even helped change some of the fostering laws in B.C., Stahley explained, to better benefit children. Don’s cousin Ken Neden remembers the early days of the Coombs-Hilliers Volunteer Fire Deptartment when Don, as well as Neden’s late father Isaac, and a handful of others began fundraising by selling $5 memberships for the hall. “The firemen had to go door to door to raise funds to buy used trucks and used equipment and scrounge wherever they could to get fire gear,” he said. Neden agreed that Don was always doing things for the community. If anyone needed a hand with farming Don was there in a flash. “If you needed a hand with one of the animals, no big deal, he’d come over and give you a hand,” he said. “And you knew he had all kinds of other stuff on his plate as well but he’d pop over and give you advice.” Neden said it was Don’s calm demeanor that stands out in his mind, never loosing control or getting upset, just always happy to help. This idea was echoed by current fire chief Richard Reedel, who worked closely with Don for over 10 years. “Whenever somebody needed something he would just fill in the gap and step forward,” he said. “He helped his neghbours, he helped everybody.” Reedel made a touching speech at Don’s service, Feb. 12, which was jammed packed with about 750 people. He told a story of how Don inspired him to join the fire department, after attending a chimney fire at his house in 1998. “When Don came in our house he insisted on taking off his boots to keep our floor clean. After joining the fire department I found out that he would always remove his boots when entering a house at a minor chimney fire. This all came to end one evening when a homeowner had thrown a whole pot of water in the stove and the carpet was soaked. Don was so upset about his socks getting soaked and having to put his boots on with wet feet he said “that’s the last time I take my boots off for a chimney fire.” The day Don died he was just as active in the community as ever. By day he was attending his grandson’s soccer match, and in the evening he was on the phone with some volunteers at the fire department. In Stephen Stahley’s words Don was a leader, an exemplary citizen and a pillar in the community. Someone who’s character, charm and good old fashion kindness will live on in Coombs for decades to come. “He’s a Coombs icon,” he said, “he really is.”

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