Search set to start for new fire chief

Duane Hicks

Town salutes volunteers, employees

The Town of Fort Frances will be looking for a new fire chief in 2011 as Gerry Armstrong is retiring from the Fort Frances Fire Department at the end of the year.
Armstrong, who was among four retirees recognized at the town’s annual appreciation dinner Friday night at La Place Rendez-Vous, said he has been giving retirement serious consideration for some time, but just confirmed last week that he would be done at year’ end.
“To me, the last four-and-a-half years with the town has been a tremendous challenge, an enjoyable challenge, something I wouldn’t trade now for anything,” Armstrong noted.
“It’s been a great experience.
“However, it kind of gets to that point when it’s time to move on,” he added. “You’ve done your piece.
“I feel good about the piece I’ve been part of,” Armstrong continued.
“You know, there’s bigger and better things, and somebody else needs to step up to the plate now and take it there.”
Armstrong, 57, said his career in the fire service—first as a firefighter in Fort Frances, then working with the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office, and most recently as fire chief—has been gratifying.
“In the mid-’70s when I first started out [with] the fire department, there was a huge focus on suppression,” he recalled. “That’s what the fire service was all about.
“We fought a lot of fires in those early days, and with not near the equipment or the safety factor that we have in place nowadays.
“But the focus began to change in the late ’80s, early ’90s, moving more towards educating people and making them aware of their own fire safety initiatives and so on,” he noted.
“I bought into that in a big way,” Armstrong said. “I am a big believer in education and the safety concept in every regard.
“To me, it was very gratifying to have the opportunity to be part of that, and I really believe we’ve had successes in those areas.”
Armstrong said he will enjoy the retired life, but that it’s possible he may work for one or more district municipalities in a fire advisory role down the road.
Chief of Operations and Training Frank Sheppard has been appointed interim fire chief until a permanent replacement is hired.
Sheppard has been a firefighter here for the past 24 years.
Armstrong has worked for the town twice over the years. He began his first tenure in 1975 as a bus driver, became a firefighter here in 1976, and then left in 1986, when he took a job with the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office.
He retired in 2005, but the following year the town asked him to take on the role of fire chief here after Steve Richardson left the position.
“Gerry has been very dedicated to the delivery of emergency services to the district,” Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said during Friday evening’s program.
“He’s a team builder who has fostered strong ties with our external partners and stakeholders,” McCaig noted. “Gerry has been instrumental in leading a cultural change within the Fort Frances Fire Department with an enhanced focus on training and prevention.
“I am personally grateful to Gerry for service as the emergency service co-ordinator,” he added. “I can confidently state that our level of preparedness for any emergency situation has increased significantly under his guidance.
“I was flabbergasted to know, on a personal level, what my role in that is,” McCaig admitted. “But with good people like Gerry, I am a little more comfortable.
“We’ve actually had close to a situation with the [J.W.] Walker thing that gave an opportunity to show we are ready to enact that process if ever have to,” he noted.
“But we sure hope we don’t have to.”
McCaig called Armstrong a calming presence and an effective communicator. On a personal note, he has enjoyed working with him and appreciated him as a confidante.
Other retirees
Also recognized at Friday night’s dinner were retirees Audrey Tyrvainen, Phyllis Kellar, and George Supinski.
Tyrvainen began in February, 1990 as the toy library co-ordinator for the Fort Frances Family Resource Centre. Then in 1994, private home day care was introduced and Tyrvainen proudly became the private home day care/toy library co-ordinator.
This was her role until she retired this past July 31.
“Over the years, the means of the program changed from Family Resource Centre to Ontario Early Years Centre to ‘Best Start’ hub, and she moved from the Fort Frances Family Resource Centre to the Fort Frances Children’s Complex, [but] one thing that remained the same was her love and dedication to children and families,” McCaig noted.
“Audrey was always seen interacting with the families and caregivers that entered into her program, whether sitting with the children and enhancing their creativity during craft time, taking the time to explain wondrous programs offered at the toy library, or showing parents the importance of bonding with their babies during infant massage,” he added.
“Audrey’s sense of humour and inviting smile drew families into her programs.”
Kellar, meanwhile, began her career in early childhood education in April, 1978, greatly impacting the role and importance of child care in Fort Frances.
“Her dedication to enhancing the future of children in the Rainy River District began with the Day Care and Child Development Centre, and continued to grow into the Fort Frances Children’s Complex,” McCaig said.
“Her role of superintendent was one of hard work, dedication, and great reward.
“She strived every day to make the Children’s Complex a place where children thrived, where programs flourished, and parents felt confident in the care their children would be receiving,” he lauded.
McCaig said Kellar was always hard at work ensuring the centre was maintained and an inviting place for children and families, adding that education and staff training were two areas she always was promoting.
“[The] Fort Frances Children’s Complex would not be the place it is today without the hard work and dedication that Phyllis displayed in her 32 years of service to the field of early childhood education, and she continues this dedication in her personal life with her family and her church,” he remarked.
Supinski began his career with the town in 1980 as a bus driver.
“George was known to be a conscientious worker who worked for the benefit of his co-workers as a long-serving union steward,” McCaig noted.
“That can be a thankless job at times and a very difficult job, and his service is much appreciated.”
McCaig added Supinski also was the “quintessential organizer” who worked diligently over the years for his Lotto group, “faithfully purchasing tickets, chasing down delinquent accounts, and keeping impeccable records all in the interest of keeping the dream alive.”
“George, your co-workers have noted your efforts to foster group participation and appreciate that you continue to keep in touch with the gang at Public Works,” McCaig concluded.
Employees who were recognized Friday for achieving 25 years of service to the Town of Fort Frances included Troy Calder (Fort Frances Power Corp.), Diane Krawchuk (Fort Frances Children’s Complex), and Doug Herr (Operations and Facilities division).
Employees who previously achieved 25 years of service also were recognized.
A moment of silence was observed for former town employees who passed away in the past year, including John Demianiw and Julian Spear, and spouses of deceased employees also were recognized.
The event also was an occasion for the town to recognize local media, members of council, the management group, and the volunteers sitting on all of the town’s various boards and committees.
“I see a lot of people that I’ve come to know in the room, people that step up to the plate year after year and serve such an important function to the town,” said McCaig.
“The operation as it is, with people such as myself that are paid to do the job, can’t subsist without the contributions of the many people in this room. . . .
“People that are not only willing at times to do a difficult job, and most of the time a thankless job, but people you can be comfortable with, become engaged with, become friends with, and even argue with on occasion and they keep coming back.
“And I really appreciate that . . . it’s the lifeblood of the town and I encourage you to pass your experiences to others,” McCaig added.
“Volunteerism, throughout our society, is lagging somewhat and needs an infusion, and if there’s anything you can pass from a positive experience, it would be greatly appreciated.
“Because the town cannot run without you folks, and I really appreciate it,” he stressed.
Mayor Roy Avis said council greatly appreciates the volunteers who sit on municipal boards and committees.
“These committees make recommendations to council that provide the framework for the decisions that are made at the council table,” he noted.
“Your participation makes for good governance, and is reflected in council decisions.
“Council thanks you for your dedication and support,” the mayor added.