Fire Chief to Retire - Chief Harold Tulk
KINGSTON - After more than a decade as the head of the city's fire service, Chief Harold Tulk has announced he is retiring.

The 42-year veteran firefighter has been at the helm of Kingston Fire and Rescue since 2002, and was recruited to lead the fire service following the amalgamation of the city and Pittsburgh and Kingston townships in 1998.

Tulk, 64, gave his resignation to Mayor Mark Gerretsen Wednesday. He will officially step down on Dec. 31.

“I think it's an important event for the fire department because there's been a lot happening in the past 10 years,” Tulk said from his home Thursday.

This included bringing together professional and volunteer firefighters under the new City of Kingston, which Tulk said wasn't without its difficulties.

“To take two separate jurisdictions with their own values and policies and history... and integrate that with a mature fire service, I tell you, nobody wrote a book on that,” he said.

But with his background in fire policy and organization, Tulk said he rose to the challenge.

“I've run (the staff) pretty hard,” he said. “Without a doubt, (the biggest challenge was) getting the firefighters to focus on serving the community and not their own needs as a local entity. The thing that we had going for us is they cared very, very much for their communities.”

During the process of amalgamation, Tulk said he remained focused on creating consistency for both professional and volunteer firefighters, specifically in training and education.

Tulk said he went up against a number of people who grappled with the process of being incorporated into Kinston Fire and Rescue, and sought to have a fair but firm approach to creating new policies and procedures.

“I think I was receptive to them and hearing what they had to say, and if it didn't make sense to me than I would push them very hard,” he said. “There was no template to follow, I really did push these people to do what was right in terms of serving the community.”

In 2010, Tulk unveiled a master plan for Kingston Fire and Rescue – a document that took nearly four years to develop and contained major policy and operational changes intended to enhance response times and compliance with fire legislation.

One area the master plan identified was the need for a more seamless delivery of service to the city's east-end, such as when the bridge of the LaSalle Causeway is lifted or there is heavy traffic during peak periods.

Tulk also led the bid to secure a training facility for Kingston firefighters, which has started to be constructed on Terry Fox Drive.

A new fire training tower, which is expected to be completed by 2018, is intended to give firefighters more options for hands-on training.

Still, Tulk said he encourages the city to construct a training centre that could incorporate classroom space to accommodate all facets of training.

“I fought fiercely for that,” Tulk said. “(Firefighters) really need a place where they can learn and then exercise their skills. That training centre is something that is very, very important. If we don't provide them with that, we've impaired their ability to respond to challenges in the future.”

Although the need for a training facility was identified and approved in 2006, Tulk said he feels other city-backed projects have taken precedent.

“That's frustrating,” he said. “I think that Kingston needs to close the loop on training and education.”

Despite the need for more infrastructure, Tulk said he is immensely proud of the men and women at Kingston Fire and Rescue.

“I am passionate about these people,” he said. “I'm profoundly proud of them.”

Tulk said a mix of volunteer and professional firefighters has set a strong performance standard.

“They're not typical,” he said. “I can tell you, these people are good.”

He said volunteers at the fire service are held to the same standard as those working full-time, and get the benefit of professional experience.

Currently, Tulk oversees 180 volunteer and 150 full-time firefighters.

Since he started with the Brockville fire department in 1970, Tulk said he's seen a number of changes in the profession, including a growing expectation on fire services to provide more than just fire suppression.

This includes assisting other emergency services in providing medical assistance, responding to motor vehicle collisions, providing marine services and responding to biological and other hazards and emergencies.

“As time moved on and society evolved, I tell you the fire service had to keep pace,” he said. “We're not a single issue service. My people are required to do every bit of it. They are challenged with knowing what needs to be done.”

Tulk grew up in Toronto.

Although he was accepted into the Toronto fire department, Tulk followed his wife, Susan, to Brockville where he was offered a job as a firefighter.

During his 42-year career in the fire service in Ontario, Tulk served in all the ranks of the municipal fire structure.

He has worked as an advisor in municipal fire protection with the provincial Office of the Fire Marshal, and has organized and directed the emergency medical services in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.

He has served on a number of professional associations, including as president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs from 1992 to 1997.

Tulk was pivotal in implementing fire education in Ontario schools though the National Fire Prevention Association's Learn Not to Burn and Risk Watch programs, which have since been adopted by the Office of the Fire Marshal for public education programs across the province.

From 1984 to 2001, Tulk developed proactive emergency management plans in Leeds and Grenville as the county fire co-ordinator and emergency planning officer.

In 1998, Tulk provided his expertise to municipal officials during the ice storm that ripped through eastern Ontario and Quebec, including Kingston.

For this, he received the Solicitor General's Service Award.

For more than 10 years, he worked with professional standards to develop protocol for fire services across the province, and has been heavily involved in labour relations.

In 2010, Tulk was recognized for his contributions by the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs as he was presented with the A.J. Stone Award, the highest honour given by the association.

The award also recognized the chief's accomplishments and service outside of his own department or community.

As a fire chief in Kingston, Tulk regularly deals with political and financial components of the job. This includes advocating for more funding from different levels of government to compensate for added responsibility on fire services, he said.

Although he went up against some opponents and some difficult barriers in those areas, Tulk said his commitment and enthusiasm for leading the fire service will continue to his retirement.

It won't be easy to let go, however.

At his home in Gananoque, for example, Tulk said he has a telephone beside his bed that he answers in the event of an emergency.

“I've dug myself out of bed for every firefighter for 10 years,” he said. “They don't call you unless something's wrong.

“Now I'm being told to de-program and it's tough.”

Tulk said he's confident he's leaving behind a solid fire service that can be managed with the existing knowledge and commitment of staff.

“My objective as chief was to put the resources in place,” he said. “I've put all the tools in place, I've put all the systems in place to make this thing work and I'm very confident in that. I've given them the knowledge they need, now the fate of the fire department is in their hands.”

Tulk is expected to make a formal announcement during a press conference Friday.

Link to article: Fire Chief to Retire - Chief Harold Tulk


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