“Last call for firefighter Zak Muise, Big Cat Bravo 20.”
“Thank you for your service, Big Cat Bravo 20. Rest in peace, Zak.”
The final call was sent out by Big Cat Wildfire owner Mike Smesman to dispatch for the last time on Wednesday for the 26-year-old firefighter who gave his life battling the largest wildfire B.C. has ever seen.
The moment was a somber one, the only sounds that of family gathered in Penticton’s Skaha Lake Park for the memorial service.
Muise’s sister, Allison Tackaberry, told media that Muise’s death devastated his family, calling it a sudden and tragic loss.
The large gathering made its way down the lakeshore promenade, made up of hundreds of wildfire firefighters, Penticton firefighters, RCMP and family. Members of the public lined the beach and park along the promenade.
As Penticton Mayor Julius Bloomfield put it, Zak had two families: the one he was born into, and the one of first responders who adopted him into their own.
Muise was up north past Fort St. John on July 28 battling the Donnie Creek Wildfire — one day before he was due to return back to Kelowna to rest up — when his UTV rolled over a steep drop.
“Zak had so much passion for life,” said Smesman. “He had heart made of pure gold. He was always there to lend a hand. He was one of the first ones up for a shift in the morning, and he was one of the last ones to pack it in for the day.”
Paul Kranjc, a member of the Ontario Police Department for more than 40 years, spoke on behalf of the Muise family.
“I had the benefit of working with our local fire department, and I would trust them with my life. I was so proud to hear that Zak wanted to be a hose-hauler. He’s good at it — he was good at it — he will be good at it,” said Kranjc.
Kranj shared messages and words that Zak’s father Tim had shared together, as well as words prepared by Tim for the memorial.
“‘I am so lucky to have a son that from the moment he arrived the moment he departed, was so full of life, enthusiastic, passionate, warm understanding — I could go on literally all day. …all his hard work finally paid off the day he got the news he would be deployed as a firefighter. He was so excited, he could finally make a difference.’”
B.C. Forests Minister Bruce Ralston was also in attendance, and spoke briefly to media afterward.
“I have children myself, and I just can’t imagine the anguish a parent would undergo when a young person who you raised, you nurtured, you loved and sent out into the world to do good things meets the fate that Zak met,” said Ralston. “I just want to share my sympathy and sorrow with the family, and I think I speak on behalf of pretty much every British Columbian who can imagine what it is like for this family.”
Those wishing to donate in memory of Zak are asked to give to the Canadian Critical Incident Stress Foundation (CCISF) through CanadaHelps at the Zak Muise Memorial Fundraiser. CCISF provides organizational and family support, education and training for First responders, Veterans and their families, including Camp F.A.C.E.S., a camp for families and children coping with loss.
Muise was the fourth firefighter to die on duty in Canada fighting wildfires in 2023.
Last month, 19-year-old Devyn Gale died fighting a wildfire near her home at Revelstoke, B.C.; Adam Yeadon, 25, died fighting a wildfire near his Fort Liard, N.W.T., home; and Alberta resident Ryan Gould, 41, died near Haig Lake 140 kilometres northeast of Peace River, Alta., when his helicopter crashed while fighting another fire.
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