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North Vancouver firefighter gets the call to be an NFL official

Dave Hawkshaw will throw his flag down south following a long CFL career

Whether it is attending the scene of an accident, entering a burning building or calling pass interference, the mantra of North Vancouver’s Dave Hawkshaw is to be prepared for any situation so that you can take decisive action in an instant.

It has served him well in his years with the North Vancouver City Fire Department as well as on the field as one of the most highly regarded officials in the CFL. And now those skills have landed Hawkshaw a new gig: a full spot as an NFL on-field official for the 2019 season.

When the North Shore News caught up with Hawkshaw this week he was on shift at the fire hall, happy to talk throwing flags and fighting fires, as long as that alarm bell didn’t ring. 

“When it’s go time here at the fire hall, it’s go time,” he said. “But we train a lot to make sure that we’re ready to respond to any calls, whether it be anything that the fire department goes to: car accident, medical calls, fires, you name it. … We’re always training. The same goes for the football field. You’re constantly watching game film, you’re reading the rule book to make sure that you are 100 per cent on that. When you’re on the football field, you don’t want to be thinking, you want to be reactionary. If you’re thinking out there, then it’s already happened and it’s too slow. You want to have that decision in your mind as you see it happen, essentially. That’s just years of doing football. The more reps you get, the better you are at it. Same at the fire hall.”

Dave Hawkshaw mans the sideline at Investor’s Group Field in Winnipeg. Hawkshaw called two Grey Cups and was an alternate for a third during his CFL tenure. photo supplied

Judging by Hawkshaw’s recent promotion to the NFL, he’s better than most at making the right call. He certainly has put in a lot of reps.

Hawkshaw grew up in North Vancouver as an athlete himself, racing as a high-level alpine skier while also playing soccer, baseball, and football. Refereeing football was a natural fit, as his father Bruce was an on-field official in the CFL in the 1990s. In his mid-teens Dave started reffing GSL football games with his dad and brother. He’d officiate the younger kids and then suit up for games at his own age level. It was the perfect training ground for a career as a professional official.

“Having my dad and all his referee buddies – there were some good guys back in the day who worked at the GSL level and have been high up guys in the British Columbia Football Officials Association. They all started in North Van,” he said. “It was seriously right place at the right time. I was young, I got into it, I enjoyed it, I loved football and then there were some good guys that mentored me along the way. After you play high school, you referee high school, and if you’re doing halfway decent at it and you’re listening and taking in what people tell you, then you can move up the ladder.”

Like any good firefighter, Hawkshaw proved to be an expert at climbing the ladder. He did high school and then junior football – reffing three junior national championship games – and bumped up to the Canadian university level where he drew the attention of the CFL.

He was suiting up for a Grey Cup – he and his brother were ball boys for the 2005 game in Vancouver – when George Black, the CFL’s director of officiating at the time, pulled him aside and invited him up to the big leagues as an official for the following season. 

His first ever CFL game was at the venerable old Taylor Field in Regina. From there he kept on going, amassing 189 career CFL games including three Grey Cup – one as an alternate and two on the field. In 2016 the CFL and NFL created an officiating partnership that saw a handful of CFL officials, including Hawkshaw, go to training sessions in the States to share and learn with their striped cousins down south.

“They welcomed us with open arms, they gave us some great insight into how they officiate,” said Hawkshaw. “I worked with a lot of high-up guys down there, and everybody had a different approach and some tricks to the trade that they could lend me and that made me a better official in the CFL.”

The NFL people were also watching the CFL guys, and they obviously liked what they saw from Hawkshaw. This fall he’ll be heading out to officiate a game every weekend like he has for the past 14 years, he’ll just be travelling a little farther a lot of the time and plying his trade in front of an even more rabid football fan culture in the NFL. Hawkshaw said it’s the opportunity he’s always been looking for.

“I keep saying it, but really it’s like a dream come true,” he said. “I started officiating in the GSL when I was in my teens. … I basically followed my dad’s footsteps, I’ve just been working my way up the ranks and been given this opportunity. It’s amazing.”