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Hundreds gather to pay tribute to Malahat fire chief Rob Patterson

Hundreds of people gathered in Mill Bay on Saturday to honour Malahat Fire Chief Rob Patterson at a celebration of his life. The 53-year-old Patterson — remembered as a dedicated family man and humble leader — died suddenly on Jan.

Hundreds of people gathered in Mill Bay on Saturday to honour Malahat Fire Chief Rob Patterson at a celebration of his life. 

The 53-year-old Patterson — remembered as a dedicated family man and humble leader — died suddenly on Jan. 2 while riding a quad bike. The off-duty firefighter, always ready to lend a hand, was helping recover another quad that become stuck in the snow.

Patterson’s wife, Tanya, the deputy chief of the Malahat Volunteer Fire Department, told those gathered that her husband’s dedication to the fire department spread to the entire family. Sons Cameron and Nick joined the fire department as junior firefighters and remain involved.

“We called it our fire family,” Tanya Patterson said. “It took a while to get used to the fact that our kids were driving the fire truck.”

Patterson’s children shared memories of off-roading, camping and fishing, as well as countless “hold my beer” moments.

Daughter Amanda recalled how her parents made the trip to Armstrong at Christmas so they could spend time with their grandchildren.

“Dad was such a proud papa,” she said in a statement read out by a family friend. “You could see his heart melt when he discussed the grandkids.”

The family enjoyed an annual holiday to Mexico, but even on vacation, Patterson was thinking of ways to give back, arranging to take excess fire equipment to a small Mexican fire station.

“You never realize how many people are touched by one person,” Tanya Patterson said.

Patterson’s parents, Bob and Ina, had a cabin on the Cowichan River. In the summer, Patterson and his siblings Lorna, Sandy, Jim and Alec could be found tubing the river — “before it became fashionable,” said Dave Balding, former Malahat fire chief and Patterson’s friend for 23 years.

In 1997, Patterson joined Malahat Fire. He had little firefighting experience but “loads of ambition,” Balding said. He worked his way up to chief six years ago, and many volunteer firefighters saw him as a mentor.

Patterson worked as a carpenter, drywaller, propeller repair technician, painter and, most recently, electrician. He would joke about being a jack of all trades and master of none, Balding said. Patterson could often be found in his garage restoring old cars.

The fire chief was a vocal advocate for putting median barriers on the Malahat as a way of preventing head-on crashes.

Dave Gold, who used to live down the road from the fire hall, said anyone who drives the Malahat owes a debt of gratitude to Patterson for his willingness to speak out.

“His caring went beyond one community, it spilled out over the Malahat and to people who were dying just driving to or from work, families being devastated because the government did not pay fair attention to the dangerous highway,” Gold said.

“Someone had to stand up there and scream loud and Rob did that and his efforts are saving lives.”

While many used the word hero to describe Patterson, his family described him as humble, always giving credit to his firefighting crew.

“Rob had a way of making you feel larger than life,” Tanya Patterson said. “His sense of humour, his wonderful laugh and the twinkle in his eye will be sorely missed.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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CHEK News reports on Rob Patterson's funeral in Mill Bay