A long list of firefighters have earned exemplary service medals for a combined more than 280 years volunteering for the Niagara-on-the-Lake fire department.
Dave Jones, assistant district chief at Station 4 in Queenston, who was recognized for 40 years of service, said he feels fortunate to have been able to contribute to fire safety in NOTL.
For him, he said it's not about the amount of time.
"I really don't think about the number of years. It's something that I started doing when I was in my early 20s and I've just kept doing it," Jones said in response to emailed questions from The Lake Report.
The fire service "has changed dramatically" in the time he's been involved, he said.
"The equipment and training is so much better than 40 years ago. Firefighting techniques have also changed and so have the responsibilities of the (firefighter).
And though it's a difficult job, he said he's happy to be serving a small town.
"Many of the memories are of times when other people are having their worst day. In a small community like NOTL we often know the people that are in need of our services and it is helpful for the people to know the responders are sometimes neighbours and friends," he said.
The best memories, he said, are the community events that firefighters hold throughout the year.
"Queenston is a small village and the fire department is kind of the hub. We have spaghetti dinners in the spring and fall, a chance for the local residents to sit together and either talk about old times or meet new neighbours. When there is an event in Queenston, the firefighters usually supply the barbecue. Halloween at the station has always been a big hit, kids parading around to music hoping to win the big prize. During Fire Prevention Week, we go to as many houses as we can, checking smoke alarms and CO detectors. Feedback is always positive."
Another great memory is the firefighters he has met over the years from all five NOTL stations. "We would meet throughout the year for Family Day, Spouse Appreciation Night and Christmas get togethers."
The most challenging part of the job is balancing family life with the commitment to the fire service.
"You can plan all you want for how your day is going to go, but if the pager goes off then things change very quickly."
Dealing with some of the things they see on the job can be difficult for some firefighters, he said.
"I have been to some very troubling calls, but have always been able to separate them from my personal life. At the station we are very good at looking out for each other, talking through hard times, supporting each other when needed. Every person is affected differently with each situation. We try hard to gather as a group and talk about anything that may affect any one of us. The town has support services for us and we encourage our group to use these services."
The 62-year-old is still active at the station and noted that retirement is mandatory at age 65. If all goes well, that's when he'll call it quits.
Fire chief Nick Ruller lauded the service's firefighters and their significant contributions to our community.
"In a time where we all experience competing demands between personal, career and family responsibilities, these milestones are exceptionally impressive,” Ruller said.
“The volunteer fire department is a strong community institution that contributes to community integration. The value of these recipients' service cannot be overstated.”
“On behalf of Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire & Emergency Services, we want to congratulate our members that reached these significant milestones.”
Firefighters who received awards for long service included:
Cort Day, District Chief, Station 1– 20 years
Michael Mitchell, Captain, Station 1 – 20 years
James Maw, Firefighter, Station 1 – 20 years
Vic Martens, Firefighter, Station 1 – 35 Years
Rick Gray, District Chief, Station 3 – 35 years
Dave Rigby, District Chief, Station 2 – 25 Years
Dave Jones, Assistant District Chief, Station 4 – 40 years
Frank Digweed, Firefighter, Station 4 – 40 years
George VanderMeer, Captain, Station 4 – 20 Years
Darren Trostenko, Deputy Fire Chief – 30 years
Retiring firefighters honoured by town
Two retiring firefighters were given special honours from the town for their years of service during a recent council meeting.
Vic Martens from Station 1 in Old Town, received a plaque for 35 years of service, as well as being a recipient of the Federal Fire Service's long serve Service Medal, and the provincial exemplary service medal.
And firefighter Charlie Burland from Station 2 in St. Davids was recognized for 17 years of service.
"We are truly blessed in Niagara-on-the-Lake to have a very successful fire department in our town," Lord Mayor Betty Disero said.
"And it's because of the likes of people like Vic Martens and Charlie Burland, that we are able to look after and serve the community in such an outstanding way."