Fort St. John Fire Chief Fred Burrows reflects on his career and retirement

Fort St. John Fire Chief Fred Burrows marked the end of four decades in the fire service on Friday.

Firefighters, city staff, family and friends gathered at the fire hall for an afternoon ceremony celebrating Burrows' career and contributions to the city and province. Burrows received a second bar to the Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal from the federal government, and a BC Office of the Fire Commissioner certificate of appreciation. 

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"It seems really strange because it's been my life every day of the week," Burrows said.

"I started in departments that were small, so your commitment to the community was even greater. We lost a lot of Christmas and Easter dinners, and missed out on a lot of the children's hockey games, all those different things.

"But the family that we've established, with our family within the internal fire department family, has just been wonderful, and it's like that everywhere you go. It's more than camaraderie. It's a sense of belonging."

Burrows began his career as a volunteer firefighter in Courtenay in the late 1970s.

"I remember my mom, when I was really little, taking me to the Bonsor fire hall in South Burnaby and we used to drop toys off there for the children that didn't have anything, and the firefighters used to repair them," Burrows said.

"We'd go to the Bonsor fire hall every time we had a chance because it had the same sort of windows as this (the Fort St. John fire hall), where you could walk up from the street, look inside, and just sort of dream."

By the time Burrows moved to Fort St. John in May 2003, he was elevating his career to deputy chief. Two years later, he was promoted to fire chief.

"Back then, you only dreamed about sitting in the fire truck. My aspirations were never to be a fire chief, it came by opportunity," Burrows said.

"That was the hardest thing to do, to go from management, to come off the floor and being a guy that goes to the MVIs, goes to the fires, goes to the medical calls, to being the guy trying to see the department from the five-thousand-foot level versus right down in the dirt."

Burrows made the most of his tenure as fire chief in Fort St. John.

Over the last 14 years, he oversaw the department’s growth from 12 career firefighters to a contingent of 27 firefighters and three chief officers. He also modernized the department’s fleet of fire apparatus and helped to see the construction of a new fire station and a fire training centre, set to open in 2020.

That work was guided with the help of an underwriter's report commissioned in the early days following Burrows promotion to fire chief. He came in with an eye to look at industry standards across the board, and to ensure the department was as functional and operational as possible.

Key to that was involving frontline firefighters on developing plans for a new fire hall and upgrading the department's fire apparatus.

"We never did anything in isolation," Burrows said. "We made sure that when it came to equipment, the people that were going to be using it were involved in it, and the building, well everyone needed to talk about the building."

Burrows said a career in the fire service has made him a better listener.

"When you're on the floor and you're younger and you have the drive to do this and that and you want everything done, sometimes you don't hear everything," Burrows said.

"Whereas in this position, and just with the type of situations and incidents, you have to be much better at listening and taking that information and producing something from that information."

Darrell Blades takes over as fire chief. Dan Golob is deputy fire chief. 

Blades was recruited by Burrows from 100 Mile House to Fort St. John just over four years ago. The two had long been friends through their work, and Blades says he has big shoes to fill and a big legacy to follow.

"I'm pretty excited for the opportunity, I'm extremely grateful to have worked with Fred. He's probably the nicest boss in the world," Blades said.

"I got no more trucks left to build, no more stations to build, so we're going to focus internally on some of our guys and developing a really solid succession plan and continuing to provide this great service Fred laid down for us.

"I'm pretty lucky. I'm inheriting a pretty strong department, well resourced, well equipped, so the transition will be pretty smooth. It's going to be fun."

Burrows taught many great lessons and will be missed, firefighter Matt Crompton said.

"He's a wonderful man, he's a great leader," Crompton said, add

"He's left us in a really good spot. After a little bit of a grieving period and understanding that we're going to have to figure out our way around here without him, we'll be able to moved forward. I see good things in our future."

Finally retired, Burrows plans to focus on tending to a quarter-section in Cecil Lake where his family crop shares, growing hay and grain, and raising sheep. He hopes to find a job that will keep him busy in agriculture.

"I'll find something else to do. You got to stay busy," Burrows said. "It would be nice to have a job where you learn some more." 

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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