Merrittonians may notice a familiar face serving the community as a former Merritt hockey player is back in the community in a different uniform.

Ryan Forbes, former forward and assistant captain with the Merritt Centennials, has been serving the community since last July as a Work Experience Program (WEP) firefighter.

“I’ve always felt welcomed here and I like the community a lot,” Forbes said adding that he’s learning something new everyday while on the job.

The native of Kitimat, B.C. played 42 games for the Cents during his final season of junior hockey in 2015-16 before being sent at the trade deadline to the Chilliwack Chiefs who made a run to the Fred Page Cup that year, coming up just short of the championship.

While in Merritt, Forbes met some of the WEP firefighters and got to know a bit about the program, realizing fire fighting was the career he wanted to pursue after hockey.

“I knew I was going to miss the team aspect of it, so I looked to fire fighting as a very structured, team oriented profession,” said Forbes, adding that he enjoys being able to help people.

Ryan Forbes during his time as a Merritt Centennial. (Ian Webster/Herald)

Trading in his hockey sweater for the firemen’s jacket Forbes has been serving Merritt for the past six months as a firefighter, but he’s still a familiar face around the rink.

“As a WEP we do first aid at the Centennial games, so it’s another way that I have a connection with the team still,” said Forbes. “Every time I step into the rink I miss it, but I enjoy what I’m doing now just as much and I’m sure that one day I’ll be able to play rec league or men’s league and find enjoyment from the game in the future.”

Focused on his fire fighting career, Forbes realized there was no point pursuing college hockey to obtain a degree in a field he had no interest in pursuing.

“I kind of just cut to the chase,” he said.

His BCHL career over, Forbes he spent some time working construction to save money to attend fire fighting school in Alberta this past spring. The construction job was one he said fits well with this career as it gives you knowledge of buildings.

Forbes, who now calls Chilliwack home, is searching for employment with a full-time fire department in the Lower Mainland as he continues to mature as a firefighter in Merritt.

“Good things take time,” he said. “I’m willing to stay here as long as I need to find a career.”

Having only been gone for a short time, Forbes said he’ll often run into people who recognize him from his playing days when volunteering or out at the gym

“It was an easier transition for me than most WEP because I had already had connections here in town,” said Forbes.

Known as a leader during his hockey days, Forbes said he always tried to lead by example — traits that are very transferable to the field of fire fighting.

“I wouldn’t say I was the most skilled guy, but I definitely finished all my hits and would be out there in key situations whether it be a penalty kill or late ion the game and I would always stick up for my teammates,” he said.

Merritt’s work experience program is one of just four in Canada, all of which are located in B.C. The other three are in Big White, Sun Peaks and Creston.

After receiving training at fire academies, these firefighter hopefuls come to Merritt to gain work experience for a year at the local fire station while they apply for full-time fire fighting jobs.

The department started the program in response to recruitment and retention difficulties, and it helps bridge the gap between a volunteer fire service and a career fire department.