Fire chief 'content' with plan to retire

Fire chief 'content' with plan to retire
By Ian MacAlpine
Kingston Whig-Standard
Link to article: Fire chief 'content' with plan to retire

South Frontenac Fire & Rescue Chief Rick Chesebrough, at the Sunbury Fire Hall on Wednesday, has announced he will retire by Jan. 26. (Ian MacAlpine/The Whig-Standard)

The next chief of South Frontenac Fire and Rescue may have large fire boots to fill after the retirement of Rick Chesebrough, the department's first ever chief.

After 31 years as a firefighter and the last 14 as chief of the township department, Chesebrough, the only full-time employee of the South Frontenac fire department, is hanging up his helmet.

Chesebrough, 55, gave notice of his retirement at Tuesday evening's in camera session, but he will be working through next week to help with the transition.

Chesebrough worked for 20 years for the Ministry of Transportation, so with more than 30 years paying into a pension package, it was a good time to go.

"I think it's the right time," he said in an interview on Wednesday. "This has been something that I've been thinking about for the last little while, and while there's no right time, whether it be today, tonight, this week, next month or next year, it's a decision that I've chosen to make and to go out with pride and dignity on the accomplishments of this fire department is fantastic. I'm content."

Chesebrough started in 1987 as a volunteer firefighter in Pittsburgh Township and worked his way up to become a captain.

After the 1998 municipal amalgamation, he became a volunteer training officer with Kingston Fire and Rescue. The amalgamation brought together the townships of Bedford, Portland, Loughborough and Storrington.

His first day as chief of South Frontenac was Oct. 6, 2003, and Chesebrough has been on call ever since.

"For the past 14 years, it's been a real full-time job, seven days a week, on call 24 hours a day," he said. "It's been a huge responsibility and huge undertaking, to be honest with you."

Chesebrough has had to supervise nine fire halls, approximately 140 volunteer firefighters answering more than 550 calls a year over an almost 700-square-kilometre area.

"It's been busy for 14 years, but truly it's been a privilege and an honour to have been able to represent the fire service as fire chief, and there's absolutely no regrets," he said.

What does upset Chesebrough are the tragedies that have affected young people and township residents.

"That has an effect on the fire service because in small communities, people know everybody, and dealing with the situation and dealing with the families can be overwhelming," he said. "These are the type of calls you can never forget.

"In this type of business, you're always hoping for the positives that come out of it -- that's the ability to serve the community -- but you realize at the same time in the fire service you'll have to deal with tragedy and things that will permanently affect you."

Chesebrough can empathize with people who have been affected by a devastating fire, after his father's Gananoque home caught fire in 2006. He was contacted by the Gananoque fire chief and quickly made his way to the scene.

"Being in this position to try to approach that objectively and assist while trying to keep the emotions intact was difficult," Chesebrough said. "That's something you don't forget and it was a real difficult one."

His father suffered smoke inhalation and spent the night in the hospital but recovered. He died in 2009.

But Chesebrough said the emotional toll was hard on the family, which also lost some photos and irreplaceable family heirlooms in the fire.

"Seeing it from that side certainly casts a perspective on it that sometimes [as chief] you don't always consider, you don't always realize or understand, you're focused on the job," he said.

Besides being on call 24-7 during his career, Chesebrough has found time to serve on a number of industry-related bodies.

He's been the fire co-ordinator for Frontenac, Lennox and Addington; the provincial advisory representative for Zone 6 that covers Kingston to the Quebec border and north to Deep River, consisting of 74 fire departments; a member of the area advisory committee on the opioid crisis; worked with the Ministry of Transportation on funding for emergency road signs; and a member of the KFL&A Chief's Association and head of the shared response committee.

In 2017, Chesebrough received the Bill Williams Humanitarian award by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and a citation from the Ontario Provincial Police for his work, and has also won a life-saving award from the OPP.

Chesebrough said he had a "tremendous job" and had a good relationship dealing with the media to provide accurate information on fires and collisions in the township.

Chesebrough's plans for the future include spending more time with his wife, Tammy, his two sons and a new granddaughter.

After a period of time, he said he may be back doing similar work one day.

Wayne Orr, the chief administrator officer for the township, called Chesebrough a dedicated man who worked 24-7 for the fire service.

"He's been a leader for the township and he's made a lot of accomplishments," Orr said. "He's made a lot of improvements to the township over his service, and I think he's well respected by the community and he's definitely out there and been a strong ambassador for us."

"I'm very satisfied," Chesebrough said. "And I know when I leave this organization that at the end of the day I truly hope and believe my employment had a positive impact on the fire department [and left it] well positioned and well suited to move forward."

The township has appointed Terry Gervais, the former fire chief in Napanee, to be interim fire chief while the township does a review of the department.

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