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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Dialling down the heat: NOTL firefighter retires after 38 years of service

Queenston firefighter Ken Hernder says leaving the fire station doesn't mean his time with the firefighting community is over.

The Virgil resident (Greater Virgil Area, as he says) is retiring from firefighting after 38 years serving the Niagara-on-the-Lake community.

He officially turned off his pager on New Year's Eve when the clock struck midnight.

“My wife keeps saying, 'I don't know what I'm going to do with you Monday nights now.' I'm going to have to find another hobby to keep me busy,” says Hernder in a phone interview.

But he's not worried about twiddling his thumbs.

“I have lots of projects, so I keep busy anyways,” he says.

He also still works part-time as a wine consultant at Two Sisters Winery.

“It keeps me busy. And hopefully when this pandemic's all over, I also do Niagara-on-the-Lake culinary walking tours.”

One the biggest changes will be adjusting to not having to be readily available for fire calls, Hernder says.

“You get kind of set in your way from doing this for 38 years, especially when you're on call 24/7. So it's a different life.”

“I don't have to listen to (my pager) any more. No more getting up at three or four o'clock in the morning, so that's nice.”

He said it's been a “very good run” for him and looks back fondly to his early years.

“Queenston, back in the day, we were one of the first halls. Niagara-on-the-Lake didn't have any rescue equipment when it came to the jaws of life, and the boys in Queenston along with local people, we actually raised the money to purchase it ourselves,” he says.

He's seen plenty of changes over time and remembers when Queenston firefighters did water rescues and were trained to rappel down into the gorge for rescues. 

“When I first joined, believe it or not, Niagara-on-the-Lake did have a rescue boat. The Queenston fire department went out and bought a little 12-foot aluminum boat with a nine horsepower on it. But it didn't last very long after a couple of incidents on the Niagara River. We made requests to the town to purchase a bigger boat and the town said no, so we immediately sold it.”

Before the Jet Boats, the Queenston fire service also did body retrievals.

“And for years we were the only fire department in Niagara-on-the-Lake that ran to every motor vehicle accident call.”

He said he'll still be involved in the fire hall's various events and be there to mentor any up-and-comers.

“We have a very strong association side. And we do our spaghetti dinners and our fundraising for sports and local families, etc.,” he says.

“A lot of our retired members are still very active.”

One thing he'll miss is the camaraderie of Monday night meetings.

“It's going to the hall, the training, it's working with brothers and sisters,” he says.

With his extra time, he's looking forward, pandemic pending, to spending time with his new grandson Holden.



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