A 25-year-old Ontario firefighter who died while on the job in British Columbia is being remembered for his smile and big heart.
Zak Muise from Waterford, Ont. was among the crew fighting a fire in Donnie Creek last week. The blaze has been reported as the largest in B.C.’s history.
On July 28, the last day of his crew’s deployment, police say the utility vehicle Muise was inside rolled over a steep drop on a gravel road. Police say that despite his crew’s efforts, he died his crew’s best efforts, he died.
“I specifically picked him for this assignment going up there because I knew it was a large scale and I wanted to send a crew up that could do some good work and real make an impact,” Mike Smesman, owner of Big Cat Wildfire, the company Muise worked for, said.
“They were working on a pump site when there was a request to go retrieve fuel for the pump and Zak volunteered to help with that and that’s when the incident occurred.”
His crew leader and friend said that Muise was excited to “put his mark on the Donnie Creek fire.”
“He had a lot of pride and excitement towards it,” Jarad Gibbenhuck told CTV News Toronto. “He was honestly one of the greatest men that I have had the honour of working next to. The love he had for life and his every day having the biggest smile on his face no matter what the task at hand was.”
“He was a brother to me.”
In a statement, Muise’s family said they were devastated by the loss and asked for privacy as they mourn.
“Zak loved life and loved what he was doing. He will be missed by all who knew him.”
Muise is the fourth firefighter in Canada, and second in B.C. to die on the job during this year’s historic wildfire season.
“To go through this again is heartbreaking,” said Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s minister of emergency management and climate readiness.
“On behalf of the province I want to offer my deepest condolences for this young man’s family, friends, colleagues and the entire wildfire fighting community.”
A fundraiser has been set up by Muise’s family in his name, with the benefits going to the Canadian Critical Incident Stress Foundation’s CAMP F.A.C.E.S. program.
“Not only did he just excel at it naturally he just loved giving back,” said Gibbenhuck. “He loved their aspect of helping people and helping communities. He just had such a big heart. He wanted to be part of the solution.”
His firefighter call sign ‘BIG CAT 20’ has been retired by the company. They will be holding a memorial for him in Penticton B.C. next week.