Daniel Joseph Botkin

A volunteer firefighter, he’d learned the value of hard work at a log-home firm, where he returned last month to fight a fire
Gabriela Perdomo
Daniel Joseph Botkin
Illustration by Julia Minamatag

DANIEL JOSEPH BOTKIN was born Feb. 17, 1986, in Salmon Arm, B.C. His birth was the first adventure for a man who would go on to seek many more. His mother Sandra, a homemaker, and father Doug, a worker at a nearby sawmill, lived across the Shuswap River from Salmon Arm. There was no bridge to their home, so they left their car in town and used a raft and cable to cross the river. But the winter day Daniel was born was unusually cold and the water level was low, with ice jamming up the pulley. Daniel was born a mere half-hour after they finally made it to hospital.

The family soon moved to Enderby, B.C., a small community nestled in the mountains where both his parents had grown up. Following his parents’ divorce, Daniel, then three, and his younger brother Christopher went to live with their mom; Daniel quickly assumed the role of “the man of the house,” according to Sandra. “He felt he had to be protective of me,” she says. “And that never went away.”

Daniel was a sweet boy, with lots of friends. In Grade 5, his teacher at M.V. Beatty Elementary created fridge magnets with a title defining each student. Daniel’s read: “How to charm everyone and everything.” His mother had to help him deal with the many girls who took an interest in him. “He didn’t want to hurt their feelings, so he wouldn’t take the girls’ calls,” she says.

When Daniel was six, his mother married Norman Black, a union that created a new family of five siblings. (His father also remarried; he and his wife, Danielle, lived in Enderby as well.) Daniel endured a setback at age 12, when he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which meant he had an abnormal electrical pathway in the heart. As a result he was told to take some minor precautions, and was warned to never pilot an airplane. This he didn’t mind: he didn’t like flying, or leaving Enderby at all. “He hated being away,” Sandra says. “He used to say, ‘As soon as I see Enderby in the distance, my whole body starts to relax, and I’m happy again.’ ”

In high school, Daniel played sports, including hockey and rugby. His sense of humour, humble attitude and social skills earned him the monikers “Dantastic” and “Big Deal Botkin.” He thought of becoming a youth pastor—his family had turned to Christianity in 1999, and he remained deeply committed to his faith throughout his life. He then thought of becoming a police officer, then a firefighter, plans with a common thread: he wanted to contribute to his community. Indeed, at 18 Daniel joined the Enderby Fire Department as a volunteer, his true passion. As recently as last summer, he thought about taking a course in Texas to become a professional firefighter.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Daniel landed a job at Sperlich Log Construction, a local business specializing in log homes. It was a good fit because Daniel, an avid fisher, camper and hunter, loved the outdoors. He enjoyed the job, coming home to his family every night with what Sandra calls “typical boy stories,” and looked up to the Sperlichs, who had built the successful business from the ground up. Daniel moved on to work at the local mill, then went north to work the first of a few short-term stints at an oil-drilling rig in Millet, Alta., where he drove heavy duty trucks. But even with his travels north, Daniel remained the glue amongst friends and family back home in Enderby. His phone bills “were through the roof,” says Missy Schalin, a close friend, as he was always calling to check in or make plans to see people.

Last September, the Enderby Fire Department promoted Daniel to captain and training officer. He had met Miranda Hansma the previous year, a tall, smart Enderby girl who quickly became his girlfriend, then his roommate and, on Oct. 29, his bride. When they met, Miranda says, they were instantly in love. Playing on the words of a Kenny Chesney song, “you had me from hello,” Miranda and Dan used to tell each other, “you had me from before hello.” To Daniel, she was simply “the one”: she was creative and loved nature, joining him in all his adventures—even hunting.

Exactly two months after his wedding, in the early hours of Dec. 29, Daniel answered a call about a fire at Sperlich Construction—the very same place where he’d loved to work. While he battled the flames, an explosion took his life. He was 25.