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Former premier recognizes first responders

Mike Harcourt to deliver the keynote at the 10th Annual 911 Awards next week

Brian Wootton had just joined the Richmond Coast Guard in the early 1990s when they received a call about an organ transplant team stranded on Vancouver Island. It was the quintessential dark and stormy night and helicopters couldn't travel due to high winds.

Instead, the Richmond Coast Guard team transported the surgeons back to Vancouver where they were able to deliver transplants and save several lives.

"That incident had a profound impact on my young self," said Wootton, remembering the night that galvanized his interest. "It made me think, 'Ok, this is meaningful work.'"

It's crises like these and people like Wootton that propelled the Richmond Chamber of Commerce (RCC) into action, establishing an event recognizing local heroes back in 2003.

A decade later, the RCC hosts its 10th Annual 911 Awards next Thursday, April 12. While other such galas across Canada honour one group of first responders, these awards appreciate the efforts of all Richmond First Responders.

"We just want to show that we recognize their role and we're pretty dependant on these folks," said executive director Craig Jones.

This year, former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt will give the keynote address, sharing his own experiences with first responders after he fell from his balcony and suffered a severe spinal-cord injury.

Wootton remembers the first 911 Awards ceremony fondly.

"It was pretty exciting and useful to get to know all the other agencies," he said.

"I remember thinking how classy it was, everyone was dressed in their #1 uniforms. The Richmond Choir sang O Canada."

Jones also remembers the anticipation of the night. Nobody was sure how such an event would unfold, considering it was the first and (still) only one of its kind.

Roughly 100 people poured through the doors, a success back then, but nothing compared to the recent numbers ranging between 250 to 300 attendees. To give the inaugural keynote was then Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo.

"She spoke eloquently, it was quite moving," Wootton remembered.

Though the numbers have increased, little else has changed about the format of the event, which includes dinner and entertainment, and "shows the interoperability of all the teams, as we rub shoulders and share stories," according to Wootton.

"It's become more polished over the years, but at the core the event still accomplishes what it set out to do 10 years ago, and that's recognize all these people who help the community," he said.

This year, the mayor will make a tribute to the 27 civilians who helped during the plane crash on Russ Baker Way last October.

The gala will begin, recognizing those civilians who rushed to the aid of the nine people trapped in the small aircraft.

The night will also recognize the late Const. Jimmy Ng who died on the job 10 years ago.

"He's the only one we've lost in 10 years, but it's a reminder that these people risk their lives for us," said Jones. "We often take for granted their services as part of the norm, but this isn't the norm," he added.

"They provide a safe environment that we are privileged to live in."

The night provides a venue for first responders to tell their stories to public who might only have a vague idea of what they do.

"The public is switched on to knowing what we do as this big boat in the arctic waters," said Wootton of his team, which incidentally turns 50 this year.

"But we have the opportunity to tell a story and say look at what's happening in Richmond."

The night begins at 5: 30 p.m. with dinner and awards at 6: 30 p.m.

Tickets are $110.