It was an emotional evening as firefighter Michael Aksadjuak was recognized for his 34 years of commitment to the Rankin Inlet Volunteer Fire Brigade by his peers and members of the community Nov. 18.
A giant feast was held following the ceremony, and then the community got to kick-up its heels in celebration of Aksadjuak's achievement during an evening-long square dance.
Rankin Fire Chief Mark Wyatt said the decision was made to hold the event at this time because the Office of the Fire Marshal was finally able to present Aksadjuak with his 30-year pin.
He said that's a pretty big milestone, so it only made sense to do something public to mark the occasion.
“We decided to celebrate, as a department, Michael's 34th year in the fire service,” said Wyatt.
“He received a presentation from Assistant Fire Marshal Nathaniel Watson, and he also received a couple of certificates and his 30-year pin before we presented him with our plaque on behalf of the department.
“We decided to invite the community out to share in Michael's celebration, and the best way to do that is to hold a feast, so we organized our first feast and square dance and it went pretty well.”
Aksadjuak, who was joined by his wife, Maryanne, and his son, George, who are also members of the Rankin department, became overwhelmed with emotion when the local department's amazing plaque was presented to him.
Wyatt said it was quite the moment for the 150 or so community members who attended the event.
He said there probably would have been even more people there if not for the fact they were competing with a bingo game that featured a $15,000 jackpot.
“The same people within the department who help out with everything else made a big effort in organizing the evening for Michael.
“We had about 12 members at the feast, different people helped with the cooking, and we held a team building butchering exercise during our final practice night before the event.
“We had a big menu for the feast, which included char chowder, caribou (tuktu) stew, caribou chili, polar bear and a couple of turkeys among other items.
“An event like this is a good morale booster for the department because there's a sense of pride when you have a member who has put in 34 years, and it was important for us to recognize Michael in way that would have a big impact on him, and it did as he was very proud to have something like this done in his honour.”
Michael, 54, said the 34 years with the fire service often seem to have passed by in the blink of an eye.
He said the ceremony made him feel very proud and excited.
“A few former firefighters came up to congratulate me and I cried with them,” said Michael.
“I worked with an awful lot of fellow firefighters during my 34 years with the department.
“I'm very happy our department is running so good right now.
“It's a lot different now than it used to be because I have a lot more help and a much better fire chief here, as well.”
Michael said he still enjoys every single aspect of being a volunteer firefighter.
He said doing something good for his community always feels good, but there's more to his dedication to the department than that alone.
“It's more like the light of the community, right now, and having so many people happy that I made it through my 34th year.
“I've seen their smiling faces, and I'm still shaking hands with many people in the town.
“I couldn't help but cry a bit when I saw the awesome plaque that our department was presenting to me.”
“It meant a lot to me to have my wife and son part of the department and being there for the ceremony and, I hope, the evening was something that they will keep inside themselves forever.”
Michael said he had no idea what the plaque he was going to receive would look like.
He said it's hard to put into words what he felt when he saw what was being presented to him.
“A lot of men and women have saved a lot of property and lives in Rankin over the years as firefighters, and our crew members still ask me what to take on a call, what they need to use, and what they need to learn, and I'm always available to them.
“I can still run a little bit, so I can go a little bit longer with our fire service.
“I'm still a few years away from the end of the line as a volunteer firefighter in Rankin Inlet.”