McGregor Says: When to build up, when to tear down

Driving along Fraser Highway in Langley City it is reassuring to see the Paddington apartment building being rebuilt so quickly after last December’s devastating fire.

Watching the firefighters working to save what they could and protect adjacent buildings, then spending a few hours with the victims in the emergency reception centre, it was easy to see the trauma facing both the first responders and the victims.

I can assure you it is a source of pride for the firefighters to see the building being rebuilt with only the damaged portions removed. I still drive past apartment blocks or single family homes that our fire department saved years ago and I recall the flames and smoke and chaos of the scene.

Being able to bring all of that under control and stopping the damage so the families can rebuild or business can re-open is what firefighting is all about.

Next door to the Paddington building on 201A Street two apartment blocks have been demolished and the rubble hauled away, making way for new homes. Those buildings also experienced fires that were extinguished by the fire department but the simple age of those buildings dictates that trying to comply with the new fire code and building code upgrades makes it more practical to demolish and rebuild.

Watching those buildings come down also brings a sense of nostalgia as I was a summer laborer on the crew that built them. A neighbour had a construction business and hired me and a couple of other local teenagers to wheel cement, strip forms, and pack lumber.

Today I watch cranes erected on site to swing lifts of 2x4s up to the top floor and see scissor lifts loading sheets of Gyproc up to the waiting workers. That staccato sound of nail guns echoes across the site as the roof and floor boards are nailed down.

We were not so lucky, and packed pitch-covered lumber up the two or three flights of stairs, never fast enough for the carpenters. One day after getting a very large sliver in the palm of my hand, I went to Irvin the first aid guy. He took a jack-knife out of his pocket and cut a slit beside the sliver, took it out and told me to get a Band-Aid from the shack and get back to work. Today, with WCB regulations I could probably have had a week off.

My foreman told me to keep busy, always find something to do. One afternoon I started to help a plumber’s apprentice carry some pipe upstairs. My foreman took me aside and said, “See the name on that plumbing truck, that doesn’t show up on your paycheque? Don’t help them.’

My first introduction to trade unions.

Just like life, knowing when to tear down and start over or try to repair what’s broken are big decisions we face from time to time. We have to think about what it will look like when we’re done.

At least that’s what McGregor says.