Ray Ford appointed Chisholm Township fire chief

Ray Ford appointed Chisholm Township fire chief
By Lauren J. Campbell
Almaguin News
Link to article: Ray Ford appointed Chisholm Township fire chief

Ray Ford

Ray Ford has some big shoes to fill as he steps into the role of fire chief for the Chisholm Volunteer Fire Department.

Ford a sheep farmer and journalist, took over the duties of former chief Matt Plant last week. Plant had been leading the volunteer department for 28 years.

“Matt is likely to be the only long service chief like that in the history of the department,” said Ford. “When you look at a volunteer department, I don’t know where you would find another chief that had that level of service.”

But Ford has already proven his own dedication having served as a firefighter for just over 20 years and committing to the department only months after moving to Chisholm Township in 1996.

“That’s the problem with this job, there’s always something to worry about. That’s why you have to learn to pace yourself."
“I hadn’t been here long and I was writing an article for the Ontario Farmer about a training session that the fire department was having. That’s where I met Matt and he asked if I was interested in joining the crew.”

Although he had no hands-on fire fighting experience, Ford said he had worked closely with volunteer fire departments in Essex County when he was reporting for the Windsor Star, “and I had a lot of respect for them. My uncle was a firefighter too, and so it’s in the family,” Ford said.

He admits there might have been a bit of allure to the job, but “I didn’t go into it blind, and any romance wears off early. After a few 3 a.m. chimney fires, the job becomes less exciting."

“They say in the fire service, everyone likes to put the wet stuff on the red stuff. I used to be the rescue captain, the most adrenalin-activating job because you’re dealing with medical problems and putting the fire out at the nozzle end. Now I’m learning about budgeting and administrative and organizational stuff. I’ve been lucky enough that Matt has given me good support and been very patient with my endless questions.”

Ford has no plans for making any significant changes to how the department has been run

“Matt set a pretty high standard, so I hope to continue in that spirit,” he said, but added that “you always want to invest in training. The main asset in a fire department is the firefighters. You want good functional safe equipment, but the key asset, and the place were your major investment has to be placed, is your members and their skills.”

Ford describes the Chisholm fire department as “pretty traditional. People join it because they live in the community and want to contribute to community service. It’s not a department that is necessarily a stepping-stone to a full-time job, like some others might be.”

And he sees advantages in that

“The community commitment of the volunteers is very strong. There’s a connection to the people in the community and you tend to know a lot of the people you meet on our calls. In addition, the fire fighters like to help out at things beyond just the fire department and are involved in the charity car wash and activities like the Powassan Maple Syrup Festival.

“When I started, half of the original volunteers were still on the crew. Some just retired last year after 30 years’ service. That’s the level of commitment in this department.”

The department meets every Monday night for training and discussion, takes part in regional training courses and brings in specialists and takes advantage of whatever classroom opportunities are available.

Ford thinks his crew is well prepared but it’s not just training that that makes for good fire fighting.

“A lot of what we do is about stamina,” he said. “A rural department like ours might get 25 calls in a busy year. So a large part of the commitment is to training that may only be used a dozen times a year. When you do get those calls, you could be working over long hours in the wet and the cold, and it doesn’t always go in your favour. You have to have the mental and physical toughness to put in the effort and fight that fire. Sometimes over night and into the next day.

“People watch TV and they see fires occur within a 60-minute time frame, but we have to fight fires, go back to the hall and clean and repair everything. It’s a huge behind the scenes commitment that people are not aware of.”

As chief, Ford’s concern is now focused on the safety of his fire fighters during those long ordeals.

“The effectiveness and safety of our fire fighters was job one for Matt. It was a very professional approach and he would never ask people to do something that they weren’t trained for and felt confident doing. I intend to follow that example,” he said.

But there are a lot of other issues that will be fighting for priority in Ford’s mind as he comes to grips with his new position.

Every night he will listen to the weather and worry about how cold it might get and how that will impact on a fire call. Or how much rain might fall and what that will do to road conditions, and will it lead to localized flooding, a frequent occurrence in certain areas of the township.

These things all fall under the chief’s purview.

“That’s the problem with this job, there’s always something to worry about,” he said. “That’s why you have to learn to pace yourself. You can only deal with what comes your way.”

And the first big decision to come Ford’s way is the purchase of a new pumper truck.

“It was my job on short notice find the best vehicle we could with an eye to getting at least five, and we hope 10, years out of this vehicle so we’ll be able to plan for an effective replacement,” he said.

He thinks they have found the right one, at the right price. A 1995 Freightliner 1,000-gallon pumper from the Municipality of West Elgin. If negotiations go well, he hopes to bring the new truck home and put it in service for less than $30,000.

“I’d barely been chief for a week and the first priority has been to get the new pumper in service,” he said laughing at how far from his expertise as rescue chief some of these new decisions will take him.

“I know this is a big commitment,” he said, “but Matt has set an exemplary path for me to follow.”

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