Fire definitely runs in the blood of those who choose a high intensity firefighting career.
The Trail Times talked with outgoing Fire Chief Terry Martin and incoming Fire Chief Dan Derby about the transition process and changing horizon for the regional service. Derby officially takes on the central role beginning April 29.
Firefighting has been a calling for both – Martin was 21 years old when he caught the spark as a paid-on call member in Rossland back in 1981. Ten years later his vocation was etched as a full time firefighter with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Fire Rescue. In 2004 he became deputy, then in 2010 Fire Chief.
Firefighting for 36 years and taking responsibility for such a vast service territory, which includes dispatch for 38 fire halls in the Central and Kootenay districts, has understandably taken its toll. Earlier this year, Martin decided it was time to hang up his gear for good.
But that doesn’t mean he’s heading off into the sunset for a daily golf game anytime soon. In fact, he’s taken on another integral public service role – this one as an on-call community coroner for the BC Coroners Service.
“There will come a time when I don’t want to do anything,” he chuckled. “But I am not there yet.”
As part of a succession plan through the regional service, Derby is ready to take on the consuming job of Fire Chief.
But he’s quick to point out that Martin remains very much in the picture to help him fully take the reins at month-end.
“It’s been great working with Terry,” he shared. “We have a friendship and we also have a very good working relationship. He’s made himself available to me for things I need his experience on … we have a good working relationship with our crews, so maintaining and building on that is going to be a key piece.”
The soon-to-be-chief was still in high school when his career began. Derby was 17 when he started as a junior firefighter in Chemanius, and over the decades, has built an impressive service record.
After 20 years firefighting for the Vancouver Island community, Derby moved up as general manager for public safety at the Cowichan Valley Regional District. It was there he trained for emergency program coordinator, a role he currently fills at the RDKB, as well as responsibilities for Central Island 9-1-1 and six volunteer fire departments.
“My portfolio was very similar to what Terry and I have here,” he said. “But it was administrative, there was no operational component to it and I missed that fire operational piece.”
So when he made an application for the Deputy Fire Chief position in 2010, the transition to the Rossland Avenue base was a perfect fit.
“It was the right time for me and my family to move here,” he recalled. “And moving to Trail has been the best thing we every did.”
Derby said the new prospect was exciting because he had solid history with former Fire Chief Gary Johnson and his successor, Terry Martin.
”I worked on committees with him (Johnson) through the BC Fire Chiefs Association, I knew he was retiring and Terry was going to be chief … so I had a relationship with the two of them before coming here.”
Working with Martin over the past seven years has been rewarding for Derby professionally and for the fire service as a whole – he noted significant advances since 2010.
“(There has been) improvements to our equipment and apparatus, and huge strides in our training,” he said. “Our retention levels for paid on-call are really high right now and what I am looking forward to is building on the legacy of what Gary and Terry did,” Derby added. “So I think it’s an exciting challenge but a great opportunity, and I am looking forward to it.”
He acknowledged the ongoing challenge of retention and recruitment of paid-on call members in terms of trained capacity – because there’s heavy commitment for those positions which man halls in Rossland, Warfield, Montrose, Fruitvale and Genelle.
“It takes practice night every week and quite a few weekends over a three-year period to become certified as a ‘1001 Level II’ firefighter,” he explained. “Which is the level of service the committee (East End Services) has adopted for the community, so that’s a key challenge.”
Derby’s command will evolve in another way, once upcoming amendments to the Fire Safety Act are put into play.
“The Fire Safety Act is making huge changes to the authority that we operate our fire departments under,” he said. “Terry and I have been involved in lots of meetings and it’s actually going to give us more teeth in regards to enforcing fire prevention issues that we’ve struggled with in the past.”
Updating regulations will take a few years to enact, but as Fire Chief, Derby endorses the inevitable growing pains new rules will present.
“Having the capacity to use that authority will be a challenge for us given the size of our department,” he said. “But it’s a good thing. And changes to the building code that are being anticipated are again, a positive for the fire service … all those things I see as the administration side of the house, and supporting our members right down to the operational guidelines, are a positive.”
He concluded, “What I keep going back to, is we are here from a community service perspective. And I want to be to provide the best service that we can for the community, with the men and women that make up our fire service.”