With four children from six to nine years old, Nick Ruller jokes that he doesn’t have a lot of down time.
Coupled with his new job as the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s fire chief, he probably will have even less.
The town announced last Thursday morning that Ruller was promoted to fire chief and community emergency management co-ordinator, effective immediately. When fire chief Rob Grimwood left the position this summer, Ruller, his deputy, was named acting fire chief.
Ruller says he is excited about his new role.
“To have the support of council and the support of town staff and our firefighters to continue in the same direction is encouraging,” he told The Lake Report.
Ruller grew up in NOTL after his family had immigrated to Canada from New Zealand. Being the youngest child in the family, he says he’s a “people’s person at a core” and a social individual who has always enjoyed helping others.
He first started with NOTL Fire & Emergency Services as a volunteer firefighter in Old Town in 1999.
In 2001, he was hired by the Toronto Fire Service and was a full-time firefighter there while continuing to volunteer in NOTL and commuting to Toronto for work. He eventually moved to live in Toronto with his family.
Being a career firefighter in a bigger city comes with a higher call volume, Ruller says, and the wide range of situations he had to deal with provided him with “good experience in a short amount of time.”
One of the biggest and most dangerous incidents he recalls is working at the scene of a massive explosion at Sunrise Propane in Downsview in 2008. The blast was heard 10 kilometres away and firefighters from all over the city were called to the scene.
“We actually attended all the way from the downtown core to Downsview for that, which was a major incident,” he says.
Ruller returned to NOTL in 2013. A year later, he joined NOTL fire department again, serving as a volunteer firefighter and a lieutenant from 2014 to 2017.
He became deputy fire chief in 2017.
Having known Grimwood for 20 years, Ruller says it was a great opportunity to learn from his predecessor.
The NOTL fire department has made a lot of progress over the past two and a half years, he says, and there aren’t many specific challenges the service is facing right now.
Being in highly emotional and tense situations where he must make informed decisions with little information is the most challenging part of the job, Ruller says. In addition, working in a local community, where his family and friends live, can also be tough.
One situation that stands out came in 2017 when a NOTL volunteer firefighter was involved in a car crash. Trapped in his vehicle, he wasn’t discovered until the next morning.
“It’s challenging for everybody. You talk about difficult calls and you really don’t know what you’re walking into day-to-day,” Ruller says. “We were blessed by the fact that someone had heard him and was able to call for help.”
But the most rewarding part of his job is helping people in need, he says.
With 110 firefighters and six staff – including two fire prevention officers, a fire training officer, an administrative assistant – and 15 pieces of heavy fire apparatus operating from five stations, all under his control, Ruller admits he feels a bit of pressure. But he says he’s lucky to have so many experienced, quality volunteers and staff to rely on.
“It’s very unique to work in an organization that is driven by something other than financial reward,” he says. “It’s encouraging.”
He says he enjoys taking academic programs, noting he’d like to pursue another graduate program in the future.
Ruller graduated from a public administration and governance program at Ryerson University and has a master’s degree in leadership from the University of Guelph.
In addition to several National Fire Protection Association certifications, he also has a graduate certificate in community preparedness and disaster management from the University of North Carolina.
The town will also be looking to fill the deputy fire chief position in the upcoming months, he says.