Retiring Chief Doug Banks

Emotional change of command for fire chiefs in Parksville

More than 250 attend the event, a ceremony that was described as a 'rarity' in B.C.

It was an official change-of-command ceremony, complete with fire department dress uniforms, speeches from dignitaries and the proper amount of pomp and circumstance.

It seemed like more of a celebration about families. On many levels.

Doug Banks performed his last official duty as chief of the Parksville Volunteer Fire Department on Monday night, handing over the reigns to Marc Norris.

In the front rows of a crowd that topped 250 were members of both families. On one side was the Banks family, beaming with pride. There was Nanette Banks, Doug’s mother and wife of the late Rod, who like his son served the department for 45 years. There was April Banks, Doug’s wife, and their three daughters.

On the other side of the aisle was the Norris family, also beaming with pride, with Marc’s mom Barb and dad Paul, who was also Parksville’s fire chief and a member of the department from 1976-97. There was Maelene, Marc’s wife, and their two sons.

Maelene goes by Mae. At one of the more poignant and touching parts of the evening, April Banks crossed the aisle, gave Maelene Norris a hug and said “good luck.” Yes, April passed to Mae.

Bloodlines were only part of the family theme on Monday night. Chief Banks and Chief Morris spoke about the department as a whole operating like a close-knit, supportive family. They were there, roughly 35 of them, in uniform in the front rows, leading multiple standing ovations for both Banks and Norris.

There was talk from master of ceremonies and former mayor Chris Burger, and Chief Banks, about the wider family, the collection of volunteer fire departments in the region, from Nanoose Bay to Dashwood to Deep Bay, and how they all helped each other like, well, a family. Port Alberni Chief Tim Pley took to the podium, offered congratulations to all, and explained how this ceremony was not exactly the norm in B.C., calling Monday night’s event “a rarity.”

Pley said the relationships departments have with local governments in other communities don’t exactly go as well as the family does in Parksville.

Pley, the president of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., said he’s seen communities where the chief and deputy chief don’t even want to be in the same room together. He said chiefs are dismissed and are victims of politics in other communities.

“It’s a pretty volatile business working in local government these days,” said Pley. “In Parksville, we don’t see that. Parksville just purrs along.”

Other people who took to the podium to offer their thanks and congratulations were Mayor Marc Lefebvre, Regional District of Nanaimo director Joe Stanhope, Oceanside RCMP Staff Sgt. Brian Hunter, B.C. Ambulance Service director Lance Stephenson and B.C. Fire Commissioner Gordon Anderson.

Both Banks and Norris had to take a step back and take a breath when they spoke about the support of their families. There were few dry eyes in the house when they did.

“It was dad’s influence that got me interested in the fire service,” said Banks. I know he’s looking down smiling.”

The retiring chief noted Tuesday would be the first day in 74 years the PVFD would be without an active member named Banks. He also thanked his wife and daughters and spoke about a “new chapter in our lives.”

Norris thanked Banks for his “friendship and mentorship” over the years and then choked up a bit as he spoke about the support of his wife and children.

He also thanked his dad for getting him interested in the fire service before addressing the members he now leads.

“I’m proud of the work you do and the work we do together,” said Norris.

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