Assiginack Township honours retiring fire chief

The Assiginack Firefighters were honoured by the community at a special event last week. photo by Michael Erskine

ASSIGINACK—It was an evening fraught with bittersweet moments as firefighters from across Manitoulin, politicians and community members gathered at the Assiginack arena to honour retiring Fire Chief Allan Elliott, welcome new Fire Chief Dwayne Elliott and honour all the members of the fire department.

“As the wife of a retired firefighter and a member of Assiginack council, it is my honour to be your Master of Ceremonies tonight,” said Councillor and MC Les Fields in her opening remarks. “I have watched, experienced and applauded the efforts, hardships, sorrows and victories that our firefighters have faced each and every time that they are called out. So often, we pay very little attention to these individuals as we go about our daily lives, but we do count on their dedication, skills and quick response. When their pagers sound the alarm, they drop everything and head for the fire hall not knowing what challenges may lay ahead. The first Tuesday of every month one can find them training, training and retraining, never really knowing when those skills will be put to the test. All of this is repeated month after month, quietly, efficiently, continuously, and often without any form of recognition or acknowledgement until the real thing materializes again and they move ready and alert into action mode. For this we as a community are truly thankful, and tonight it is our time to honour them.”

The long service pins are often presented at the annual firefighters’ Christmas dinner, noted Councillor Fields, but this year, with the fire chief retiring and the community welcoming a new fire chief and deputy fire chief, it was felt that a more focussed event would be appropriate.

“Chief Allan Elliott has served the Assiginack Fire Department for 42 years, 32 of those as an outstanding fire chief,” noted Councillor Fields. “He will be staying on in a support role for a little while longer, as our new fire chief Dwayne Elliott gradually takes over his new responsibilities.”

“I know they will have stories to share with each other later,” said Councillor Fields. “I am sure they remember stories of equipment named ‘Leaping Lizzie’ and ‘Galloping Gertie’ and the old shed behind Mrs. Mastin’s house that was opened through a hole in the door to let those lovely ladies move into action,” she laughed.

Members of Island fire departments were on hand to honour their colleagues, including Wikwemikong Fire Chief Bernie Brant, Northeast Town Fire Chief Darren Bailey and Central Manitoulin Fire Chief John Reid. Also attending were past Assiginack Fire Chiefs Wayne Skippen and Delmer Fields.

Past president of the Ontario Fire Chiefs Rob Browning, from the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshall, read a letter of congratulations from the president and presented the retiring fire chief with a token of appreciation. Mr. Elliott also received his 40-year service bar and was later presented with a gold watch bearing an engraving of the ‘Fire Fighter’s Prayer’ on its back.

A number of other honours, service pins and other accolades were presented throughout the evening.

“Bob MacDonald has served on the Assiginack Volunteer Fire Department for 35 years, many of them as deputy chief,” said Councillor Fields. “Bob is definitely the strong silent type, but he is the one you can count on in a crisis, or when tragedy strikes. He has been a role model for so many of our younger firefighters.”

Governor General Awards for years of service were presented to by Assiginack Mayor Paul Moffat to “three of our finest firefighters.” Mr. MacDonald was presented with a medal and a service bar for his 30 years of service, Brad Ham received his 20-year medal for service and incoming Fire Chief Dwayne Elliott received his 20-year medal.

Other service awards were presented to Chris Mara (10 years), Andy Gibb (10 years) and Jamie McKenzie (five years).

Assiginack’s new deputy fire chief BJ Lafleur was then presented to the community along with captains Duncan MacDonald and Jamie MacKenzie.

The entire fire team was then called to the front of the Assiginack Arena hall to be recognized by the community. “We have seen all of you under the leadership of Allan and Bob go to scene after scene, always at a moment’s notice, leaving a warm bed, a family function, work, being there to take charge, control the situation, while keeping both your men and the community safe,” said Councillor Fields. “We salute you, thank you.”

“Now I have saved the “best for last,” said Councillor Fields. “Never forgotten but often not acknowledged… wives and partners, the backbone of every firefighter in this room.  They are the ones who wait at home, worrying, wondering what their partners might be facing as they respond to the pager. Never knowing how long they will be gone, helping out with coffee, meals when necessary, making phone calls, praying that their partners will answer the call as they have been trained to do. Often meals will go cold, holiday celebrations will be interrupted, plans changed and so on. Never complaining, always waiting to see what may be needed from them if the event continues for an extended period. Without this support our firefighters could not do what they do when that call comes in. As a token of our appreciation, all of the wives/partners of our firefighters will each be receiving a necklace with the number of their firefighter on it.” The necklaces were created by Robin Burridge of Anchored Jewelry in Little Current.