Mike Navratil is the new fire chief in Fort St. James.

Meet the chief

New Fort St. Jame Fire Chief Mike Navratil comes from a diverse background in fire.

The new fire chief has been in place long enough to attend some calls and get a feel for the community and his new crew of firefighters.

Mike Navratil started the job on Nov. 4, and came to the role from a very diverse background in fire.

He started as a paid on-call firefighter in Williams Lake, while he was working as a GIS analyst for the provincial government.

After taking a buy-out in 2004, Navratil decided to make emergency fire services his career and did a three-month Justice Institute training program.

Navratil said he was attracted to firefighting because of the unpredictable nature of the job.

“It’s a very dynamic and challenging career,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

While starting out as a firefighter in Williams Lake, Navratil was attending a call at a gas leak when the group was called to a nearby structure fire, a house had a fire in the basement.

“I remember going down the stairs – you couldn’t see, it was hot,” said Navratil. “It was more than interesting.”

“It was one of those experiences that scares you at the time but you’re more than happy to do it again.”

The firefighters stopped the fire in the basement and saved the house.

“So that was my introduction to live fire as a rookie,” he said.

Since this first experience in live fire, Navratil has attended hundreds of fires and has since worked as a fire training officer in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as the deputy fire chief in Whitecourt, Alberta, and as a fire inspector at the Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

In Abu Dhabi, Navratil worked on a few month contract teaching a National Fire Protection Association course.

In Kandahar, Navratil worked for NATO as a fire inspector for a year and a half.

“It was interesting,” he said. “It was really good experience in many aspects.”

He was also a paid on-call firefighter in Vernon and Okanagan Landing.

Over the years, since he started in 2003, Navratil said the job has changed and evolved.

The training aspect of firefighting has become much more structured, said Navratil, making the job much safer for firefighters to do their job.

He said the effects of fire safety education have also had a huge positive effect on the numbers of structure fires.

In coming to Fort St. James, Navratil said he is looking to make a long-term commitment.

“To stop jumping around to work – get settled for a change,” he said.

While Navratil said he had been to Fort St. James briefly for an interview with the Ministry of Forests in 1997, he remembered the golf course more than anything, as he took in nine holes after the interview was over.

His fiancé will be joining him in Fort St. James and the couple will take advantage of what Fort St. James has to offer, as Navratil is a skier, a mountain biker, and a golfer.

With there still being some issues to resolve amongst the fire fighter members since the resignation of former chief Rob Bennett after sexual harassment allegations by female firfighters, leading to criminal charges, Navratil said he feels his background has given him some experience in such matters, having worked under a former fire chief who later had grievances filed against him.

So far, Navratil said the fire hall has been going alright, and he is not trying to change things immediately, but instead to identify possible issues of safety and liability and resolve them to move forward.

Navratil said he is open to people coming to him with concerns and working to resolve conflict within the hall.

The fire hall is currently undertaking a recruitment drive to increase their membership. There are 30 members now, and Navratil said they would like to start four junior and four adult recruits for training.

For the first couple of months, recruits would need to attend training on Monday and Thursday evenings for a couple of hours, but would then be required only to attend the Thursday practices.

Live fire training could then begin in May, which would also require a couple extra training days.