Fire chief hangs up his helmet after 40 year career

·6 min read

Renfrew -- For the first time in almost 40 years, Guy Longtin went to bed this past Monday night without making sure his cell phone or pager was fully charged and placed on his nightstand in case there was a fire or emergency nearby.

The man who made national headlines in May 2018 after he was terminated by Renfrew Town council because they said the 61-year old fire chief was too old for the job, is quite happy to embrace a much quieter chapter of his life in 2021 when he left the Whitewater Fire Department for the serenity of retirement.

“It will be an adjustment that’s for sure, but this time I am leaving the world of firefighting on my own terms and I have plans in place that will keep me busy for a good long time,” he said with his signature grin.

“When I assumed the role of acting fire chief at Whitewater Region, I knew it was only a temporary position and I was there to assist council in the restructuring of the command team until they found a permanent fire chief and we knew for quite a while that May 31 would be my last day.”

Although he is now 64-years-old and is in excellent shape that came from years of walking to work every day or hiking and kicking the smoking habit almost 20 years ago, Mr. Longtin is at peace with his retirement and is looking forward to new challenges and adventure over the next few years.

“My wife and I plan to travel and it looks like the worst of COVID is behind us and maybe I timed this perfectly because the way things are going, a lot of travel restrictions may be lifted by the end of this year,” he said. “When I agreed to accept the position of acting chief at Whitewater, I figured there would be little room for anything else except helping to get the department ready and reorganized for the new chief and the crew of 80 men and women who volunteer at one of the five stations. COVID took up a bit more of my time than any of us had imagined.”

Despite COVID, Mr. Longtin helped guide incoming Fire Chief Jonathan McLaren and his command team into their roles and he walked out of the main Cobden Fire Hall with his head held high knowing he completed the job he was hired to do.

Groundbreaking Case

That exit was far different than his previous departure from the Renfrew Town Hall on a chilly Monday afternoon three years ago.

Renfrew council had spent the morning finalizing its new mandatory retirement policy and it included a provision all firefighters, including members of command staff would have to leave at the age of 60, and nobody would be grandfathered in to avoid the mandatory retirement.

Mr. Longtin, who walked to work that day as he had done since he assumed command of the department in 1992, was in his office when he was asked to attend a meeting with members of council.

“I was completely shocked and in disbelief when they told me this was my last day on the job and was asked to make arrangements to have my personal belongings removed from the station immediately,” he said.

Although he was shocked, it seemed the entire town was in a state of disbelief when word quickly spread of his termination. He posted a statement on his personal Facebook page about the situation.

“I want to go on record to state that my employment was not terminated for cause, or for any other reason other than I am now older than the town's newly created policy on mandatory retirement age for their fire chief."

He went on to say: "up until the minute that I was advised of this decision, I was fulfilling my duties in a manner that either met or exceeded the requirements expected of me."

Within days the man who devoted his life to battling fires found himself battling town hall when he retained legal counsel and launched a lawsuit against the town for $1.35 million stating he intended to stay on until the age of 70.

His lawsuit not only drew the attention of Renfrew residents, but several provincial and municipal fire associations and unions kept a close eye on the proceedings given its groundbreaking precedence and the fact that hundreds of fire departments across the province are staffed by volunteers and any disruption or action similar to Longtin’s could have a damaging effect on a municipal budget.

In the end, both sides came to a closed agreement in January of this year with the financial details only known directly by the two parties involved. When the settlement was announced through a joint media release, Mr. Longtin did not provide any details citing confidentiality.

However, he did issue one message to anyone facing a similar situation.

“It had been dragging on long enough and in a situation like this — is anybody really pleased? It’s really a no-win situation for everybody. My advice is just don’t take it lying down. You have your rights, fight for them.”

A New Chapter

Mr. Longtin credits his wife Lana for being by his side during those three years and he said without her support, the road towards a settlement would have been not only much harder, but also much lonelier.

Today, the active retiree is anxious to start the new chapter of his colorful life and he will be continuing some longtime hobbies and tackling some new ones.

An avid photographer, he plans on keeping his camera nearby and sometimes taking it along when he goes hiking on various trails.

He is looking forward to lessening his stress level, spending time at the race track in Calabogie and focusing on painting, an activity he has recently taken up.

“This is a new day and a new part of my life that I am ready to take on and it will be just like any other challenge or situation I have encountered in my life,” he said. “It is like being behind a race car out on a track.

“You rely on your instincts and physical and mental strength to keep moving forward and sometimes, life will throw you a curve you didn’t expect. All you can do is have confidence in yourself and trust your instincts and know that all the life experiences you have gone through will help get you past the finish line.”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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