Tragedy struck Castor Volunteer Fire Rescue just over a year ago, on Feb. 4, 2022.
Around 7:30 p.m. in winter storm-like conditions, the volunteer firefighters climbed aboard their trucks to respond to a motor vehicle collision on Highway 599 a few kilometres east of the community. One of the trucks didn’t make it.
Instead, itself rolled over in the treacherous conditions. Fire Chief Patrick Kelly was seriously injured in the collision, and firefighter Stephen Rayfield was killed.
According to Cheryl Rayfield, Stephen’s wife, he always told her he would come home home, except for that fateful day.
“I said ‘Please don’t go today,’” said Rayfield.
“He said ‘I have to babe, it’s a rollover. Someone is hurt and needs help.’”
Around 9:45 p.m. that night, Rayfield’s life changed forever; her back doorbell camera indicated motion and a voice inside her told her that “nothing is ever going to be the same again.”
The voice was right; at the backdoor were a former member of the Castor fire department and an RCMP member to deliver news of the accident.
“It was very hard,” recalls Rayfield.
“The first few months, I don’t remember much. The last couple of months have been better.”
According to Rayfield, the difference between now and previous months is a perspective shift. Rayfield notes that the first few months she was in survival mode; however, since the fall she has shifted her perspective back to living again, both for herself and for her son, Sawyer.
“Sawyer is definitely what’s kept me going. We’ve grounded each other.”
The route the Rayfields got to Castor was by no means a straight one.
The Rayfields immigrated to the region in December 2013 when Stephen took a supervisory position with Vestas in Halkirk.
“I moved here sight unseen.”
According to Rayfield, Stephen had often said that he wanted to make a difference and thought about “how cool it would be to be a firefighter.” Due to the way the fire service is structured in the United Kingdom, according to Rayfield, there really was no opportunity for Stephen to volunteer there.
When Stephen had the opportunity, he joined the Halkirk Fire Department and also built a relationship with the Castor Fire Department.
“He took it very seriously,” said Rayfield.
“It was his other family … he liked he was making a difference.”
In 2017, the family moved to Castor, as it was a slightly bigger community with a few more services, and Stephen joined Castor Volunteer Fire Rescue.
Despite the pain of the loss of Stephen, Rayfield is dealing with it by helping keep his memory alive through the “#9, Make a Difference” movement, carrying forward “Steve’s wish to make a difference.”
A fundraising gala was held Feb. 4, 2023, at the Castor Community Hall to fundraise for the initiative.
Around 200 tickets were sold for the event.
“You can never make (the pain) go away,” said Rayfield.
“You can just move forward with it. It shapes who you now are.”