Acting deputy fire chief role becomes permanent

Acting deputy fire chief role becomes permanent
St. Catharine's Standard
Link to article: Acting deputy fire chief role becomes permanent

Julie Jocsak/Standard Staff
Dave Upper has been promoted to Deputy Fire Chief of St. Catharines Fire and Emergency Services. He is photographed in front of Station 1 downtown.

Dave Upper has been on the front lines for 26 years, saving the lives of St. Catharines residents and protecting property.

And being part of a team of firefighters responding to emergencies with the sirens wailing and lights flashing is the part of the job that Upper misses more than anything else.

“I miss the guys. It’s a ton of fun to work alongside them. They’re great people,” he says. “The other thing I miss is running calls. Those would be the two things that I absolutely miss the most.”

The lifelong St. Catharines resident and former platoon chief was appointed St. Catharines’ new deputy fire chief last week, after six months of doing the job on a temporary basis.

While he plans to continue responding to emergency calls, he says he won’t be charging into burning buildings anymore.

“I really enjoyed being in the command vehicle and doing all that, but now if I show up I’ll be there to support the incident commander.”

Much of Upper’s time will be dedicated to ensuring firefighters under his command have everything they need to do their jobs as safely and efficiently as possible.

“It’s a very big transition. You’re going from riding the rigs to being at the desk,” he says. “From the perspective of a platoon chief, you have 34 people in your care. Even though it’s a big transition to go from riding the rigs to being in the office, now my perspective is there are four platoons with 136 people in my care that I have to look after.”

Upper says he was given plenty of time to try out his new job before making it official.

He was first appointed acting deputy chief at the end of July, essentially replacing Monique Belair, who parted ways with the city on June 21.

“They gave me the opportunity to kind of try it and see if I liked it, or to say, ‘This is not for me, let’s go back to the trucks.’”

There was no going back for Upper.

Despite missing the action, there are other perks to his new job that make up for it.

For instance, he says working with acting fire Chief Jeff McCormick and temporary Deputy Chief Frank Biancucci “has been great.” And better yet, the new job also allows Upper to go home early enough most evenings to have dinner with his family and tuck his child into bed.

While he used to work 24-hour shifts — like most firefighters — “I’m a day guy now,” he says.

“There’s no doubt that getting to be home for Christmas, and being home on long weekends is nice.”

The new job allows him to work towards enhancing his hometown fire department, including working towards getting new firefighter training facilities for the city.

“We’re not building the (training) tower for the here and now today. We have to build this with the vision of what the needs of our fire service is going to be 20 to 30 years from now, because we know that’s how long that building is going to have to last.”

Upper says he hopes work can begin on building a training tower this year, and be ready for use by 2019.

Long term, Upper says the city also needs to update or replace its fire halls that are becoming increasingly outdated as needs of the city and fire department evolve.

“We’re overdue. There’s no secret that this building is dated and has run it’s course,” he says of the downtown hall.

Upper has come a long way since he was a 22-year-old, when he joined the fire service in 1991.

While the careers of many professional firefighters began their careers as volunteers, Upper says his career started with a hockey game. He was a physical education student at Brock University in the early 1990s, “playing hockey with a bunch of firefighters.” Eventually, the firefighters told him about several firefighters retiring and urged him to apply.

“The next thing I know, I got hired on the fire service.”

Upper was one of three recruits hired at the time, along with Mike Gilbert and Dave Wood, the city’s fire chief who has been off on a leave of absence since June due to back problems.

Upper says the chief underwent surgery on Dec. 21, which will be followed by four to six months of rehabilitation, and “we’ll see what happens after that.”

He says the people now in charge will be able to hold the fort until Wood is able to return to work.

“Frank and Jeff are incredible,” Upper says. “They’ve done an outstanding job here for sure.”

<back to Headlines