Cobden – Deputy-Chief Jonathan McLaren will be the new fire chief in Whitewater Region effective June 1 and outgoing Acting Fire Chief Guy Longtin says his experience and familiarity with the men and women under his command will help make it a seamless transition.
“Not only does Jonathan have almost 20 years of experience, but he has been active within the department and he has worked alongside pretty much all of the crew, so there is that common bond that will go a long way as he assumes command,” he said. “I have full confidence he will be an excellent chief for the department.”
A/Chief Longtin was hired in March 2020 to assist not only in the transition of a new chief once one was approved by Whitewater council, but he also assisted in the structural overhaul of the department which has five stations and more than 80 volunteer firefighters. Part of the restructuring process was adding an additional deputy chief.
Council approved the appointment of Stacey Levesque and Corey McKenzie as deputy-chiefs on March 1, and incoming Chief McLaren said their roles and responsibilities are still being defined.
“Right now we are looking at a model that will see Stacey overseeing Stations Four and Five (Beachburg and Westmeath) and Corey will be responsible for the remaining stations (Cobden, Haley Station and Foresters Falls),” he said. “However, as Chief Longtin said, we are still working on the actual administrative roles and structure and our goal is to have that all in place when I assume command in June.”
With almost 20 years of firefighting experience, incoming Chief McLaren said the role of a firefighter has changed significantly.
“The biggest change I have seen from 20 years ago is the expectation of a firefighter and the increased emphasis on training and adapting to changes as they come along,” he said. “As well, we have bigger and better fire trucks, we use imaging cameras as part of fighting fires and most of all, when you sign up to volunteer, there has certainly been an upgrade and emphasis on professionalism and constant training to keep up with current trends.”
Although the onus on increased training requires an even greater time commitment from the volunteers, Mr. McLaren does not see that as a barrier for recruiting new firefighters.
“Getting people interested and signing up is not really an issue,” he said. “What does become a challenge is the greater emphasis on training and the time commitment required. At times retention can become an issue because it seems today that everyone is busier and we all have lives to live and many of our volunteers work further from home and that becomes a challenge. It can be a challenge to find that right balance between personal home life and volunteering.”
Although he works fulltime as a firefighter in Ottawa, he understands the expectations of his new role. He said one of the immediate challenges is the state of some of the fire halls. Some are overcrowded and with new equipment and bigger pieces of apparatus space is tight, but he understands the limitations of funding and the oversight of council to deliver services within the community.
“We are no different than any other volunteer department in terms of resources,” he said. “We all have expectations to serve our residents and to fulfill our role as firefighters knowing at the same time there will be a need to address the condition of some of our stations and council is aware of the situation. My role is to ensure we meet those expectations.”
Deputy-Chief McKenzie is proud of his humble beginnings as a raw recruit when he signed up in 1998. Coming from Mississauga, he quickly came to appreciate the advantages of rural living and that was one of the reasons he joined the department. As a current member of the Canadian Armed Forces with more than 30 years’ experience, a structured command is nothing new to him and he appreciates the opportunity to assume the role of deputy-chief.
“The biggest adjustment I made coming from Mississauga was the change of pace and appreciation for the simpler things in life like being part of a community,” he said. “I signed up looking to help my community and with the experience I was promoted to captain in 2007 and I am honoured to be named deputy-chief almost 24 years later.”
Deputy-Chief Levesque is no stranger to the role of a First Responder since he is a fulltime paramedic with the County of Renfrew Paramedic Services.
“I have been a paramedic for several years and joining this department almost 10 years ago was something natural for me given my emergency response experience,” he said. “Living in Beachburg and being able to help out in my community is something I take very seriously and something I really enjoy.”
When asked if he had any reservations about passing over command to incoming Chief McLaren, A/Chief Longtin could only smile.
“The department will be in good hands,” he said. “The residents of Whitewater Region not only have an experienced and dedicated command team, but all the men and women who volunteer take great pride in what they do.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader