Pickering fire chief retiring - Bill Douglas started with the department in 1971

Pickering fire chief retiring - Bill Douglas started with the department in 1971 - PICKERING -- When Bill Douglas started with the Pickering Fire Services (back then it was the fire department), Pierre Trudeau was three years into his job as prime minister, the Toronto Maple Leafs were only four years removed from their last Stanley Cup win, ‘far out’ was still part of the vernacular, the first four reactors at the Pickering nuclear station came on line and Michael Jackson was setting out on a solo career.

Since 1971, Chief Douglas has been a firefighter and administrator with the fire service, including the past 12 as chief. After a 42-year career, he has announced he’s retiring on March 1 of next year.

He started as a volunteer firefighter in 1971 and was hired on full-time as a dispatcher in 1974.

“It was an exciting time and great career. Forty years full time,” he noted, adding he wants to spend time with his grandchildren.

“There are things I’d like to do, little things. My wife is looking to retire. It’s just time. I love working for the City of Pickering. It’s time to go.”

Deputy Chief John Hagg has been named to replace Chief Douglas.

“When I told them I was retiring, I said I hoped they would go inside (to find a replacement). They chose John. He’s an excellent choice and he’ll do a great job for Pickering. He comes from a firefighting background. He’ll keep things going forward for us. I’m so glad the City chose him. They’re getting an excellent chief for many years to come.”

When Chief Douglas began his career, Pickering had a population in the low 20,000 and two fire halls -- the one of Bayly Street west of Brock Road and a quonset hut on Hwy. 2 at Rosebank Road.

“There were two guys. If one guy was off sick or on holiday, you worked by yourself. If you got called, you had to drive the truck and pull lines. When you got to a fire, you looked for volunteers,” he said.

Like many departments at the time, volunteers were an integral part of the fire service, especially in rural areas. Now, Pickering has four fire halls staffed full-time.

It’s the staff that Chief Douglas will miss.

“I’m going to miss the job, but I’ll miss the staff the most,” he said. “I don’t get into the halls as much as I used to. I love coming to work still. It’s time. I’ll miss the people the most, the employees and staff.”

He’s been off fire trucks for about 20 years.

Chief Douglas noted, “I still go to major losses or if I’m called. Other than that, I don’t go to calls. I keep a portable radio in the office to hear,” he said, adding he might ask for a portable radio when he leaves.

“It’s the people. They drop by my office from time to time. We ask about our families. It’s nice to touch base,” he said.

The biggest change over the years is the types of calls the fire department has to deal with. When he started, it was house fires or a fire in a garbage can. Now, 53 per cent of calls are medical.

When he started, ice rescue and high-rise rescues were rare.

“It’s more specialized,” he said.

The one type of call that really bothers him is firefighters having to deal with fires in meth labs.

“We never had those.”

He added, “We learn to do everything good. We practise everything. Our guys have to do everything. It’s pretty rewarding.”

When he started, firefighters heading to a call would hang on the side of the truck.

“When we would go up Brock and hit the railway, we’d all bounce. Health and safety wasn’t a priority.”

It was worse in winter, as firefighters would be cold or covered in snow and then had to fight a fire.

“We hung on for dear life sometimes.”

Deputy Chief Hagg said he has “mixed feelings” taking over for Chief Douglas.

“He’s a great chief. He’s been here 42 years, 12 years as the chief. He’s been great for everybody, great for the city. The guys all love him. He’s put his mark on this place and it’s been a great mark,” Deputy Chief Hagg said.

“He’s a great guy. I’m sad to see him go.”

Deputy Chief Hagg started as a volunteer in 1987 and was hired full time the next year.


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