Eight members of Humboldt Fire were presented with service awards for their decades with the department.
The awards were presented by Mike Kwasnica, the department’s chief, in a small closed ceremony at the fire hall on Dec. 20, although Kwasnica said they had been holding off for well over a year in hopes that they could hold a larger post-pandemic event.
“It’s about dedication. You look at someone like Darcy Leonew who put in 40 years of service,” Kwasnica said. “He has put in a tremendous amount of time and effort and it’s just a little recognition that shows that these people were dedicated to the community for that long. Even the 20, 25 and 30 years, that’s a tremendous amount of time to serve the community in the protective services role.”
Recipients include Jordan Dalsin, who received a 10-year service award with the department; Darrell Wickenhauser, who received a 20-year service award with the department; Craig Stomp, who received a 20-Year Exemplary Service Medal and service award for 20 years with the department; Mike Kwasnica, who served 20 years with the department; Jamie Dyok, who received a 20-Year Exemplary Service Medal and 20-year service award with the department; Rick Cadrain, who received the 30-year Exemplary Service Bar; James Huber, who received a service award for 30 years with the department; and Darcy Leonew, who received a service award for 40 years with the department.
The Exemplary Service Medals are given to an individual who attained 20 years of service within fire departments, RCMP, police, ambulance, correction staff, border guards, and other protective service positions – not necessarily with a specific location.
“The difference is we’ve given Darrell Wickenhauser 20 years’ service award with Humboldt, but he’s already received his 20 year Exemplary Service award because he was part of the Melfort Fire Department and LeRoy Fire Department prior to this.”
Leonew retired December 2020, after reaching the 40 year milestone. With the award in hand, he joins other 40-year recipients in recent years, including Joe Dutchak and Daryl Hushagen.
Leonew said his decision to first join the department in 1981 was made after a conversation with then fire chief Leo Lopinski.
“I met him back at the post office and he said, ‘Darcy, we need some good guys on the fire department. Some good young guys, because we have a lot of guys retiring. Would you be interested?’”
In response, Leonew told the chief he would try it for six months. Since then he’s worked with five different chiefs at the helm.
“Who knew it was going to be 40 years later?” he said with a chuckle. “I just loved helping people and stuff like that. I just loved being a firefighter, it’s like it’s in your blood – like you were born to do it.”
He said the part that makes him feel good about the job is the lives he’s saved. One of the calls that he was proud of was a situation where a vehicle had slid into a slew in the early 1990s after losing control from the icy weather.
“The vehicle was sinking in the slew and I had to swim and break his window on his driver’s side and pull him out,” he said. “I wasn’t even in my fire suit at the time but you’re a firefighter 24 hours a day, that doesn’t stop.”
Some of the bigger calls he experienced in his tenure included the 1983 fire at the Humboldt Legion – a $300,000 loss that was started accidently by a plumber doing soldering. In 1989 an arsonist hit the Westminster United Church, but wouldn’t be the only major fire of the year with the January Main Street Fire.
“It was -40°C below weather. Everything that we had froze that day. Some of us on our fire gear had 40 pounds of ice built up that we couldn’t move, so they had to take us to the Co-op grocery store across the street and thaw us out with warm water just so we could go back and fight the fire again.”
Looking back to that day, Leonew described himself as “frozen ice cube.”
He said the biggest change for him in four decades was the technology.
“For a 60 year old man that’s probably not a good thing anymore, but for a young 20 year old guy it’s perfect,” he said. “Back then we just had a radio system and the main fire alarm on Main Street. When I first started that was how we knew to go to the fire department when that horn went off right above the fire hall.”
Now, when an emergency occurs, fire crews get a notification over their phones. Other changes included better turnout gear and computerization in the vehicles to assist members to their destination. Leonew said a strength of Kwasnica as chief has been the spearheading of new technology and training to go with it.
“I’m glad I ended my tenure with him as my fire chief because we got along so good and we learned a lot from each other,” he said.
“I couldn’t have done it without my wife Shirley in those 40 years. Every time I come home from a call she was always there for support for me, [even] when we had the nasty and bad calls.”
Jessica R. Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Humboldt Journal