Incoming fire chief thankful for support among firefighters and community

Eganville – Incoming Bonnechere Valley Fire Chief Darryl Wagner is coming to the job with a lot of experience both as a firefighter and a fire chief and, most importantly, a lot of support.

“I am not going into this by myself,” he said. “I know I have good people behind me.”

As news of his appointment by council has been made public, he said he has received support from the community and senior members of the fire department, who promise to work with him in his new role. He said he also has a long-standing friendship with outgoing Fire Chief Dave Murphy, who will be there as a resource as well.

“And I know I can count on the other fire chiefs,” he added.

Ironically, it was only a few months ago he was recognized on his retirement for his 22 years as a firefighter, which included his time as the chief at Greater Madawaska (GM). He received his retirement plaque and recognition in December and will now be back on the job in BV in March.

His appointment was announced at BV council last Tuesday afternoon. In her report to council, CAO Annette Gilchrist gave some background, noting while the township had five applicants for the role of fire chief, none were deemed a good fit. Mr. Wagner, who is the township Chief Building Official (CBO) and current By-Law Enforcement Officer, had then approached her about the job after being involved in the original committee process looking for a fire chief. His familiarity with the community and the department were seen as a major asset to his appointment. When he takes over the role of fire chief on March 11, he will no longer be the By-Law Enforcement Officer and the township will be looking for a new individual to fulfill this role.

In speaking with the Leader, the new chief noted he was a member of the BV Fire Department for 15 years before he became the fire chief in Greater Madawaska in 2015.

“I started out as a firefighter, progressed to captain and then deputy chief,” he said of his time at BV.

With a background in construction, he went to GM as the Chief Building Officer. At the time they were searching for a fire chief as well, so he became the chief there. It was during his time at GM the tornadoes hit the community, causing a great deal of devastation and he was right in the centre of the disaster relief.

Mr. Wagner agreed the role of fire chief has changed quite a bit since he started as a firefighter over two decades ago.

“It is not like it used to be,” he said. “It is a lot of administration. You are pushing paper and reporting. It is a lot more administration.

“When I started, Mike Lett (chief at the time) was at every call,” he said.

This is not necessarily the case anymore, he said. However, he does plan on responding to all the calls during the day when it can be a bit more challenging to find firefighters in the community to respond.

“It is a problem for all departments during the day,” he said. “People work away. That is what we have Mutual Aid for.”

When there is a fire in the township both halls – Eganville and Foymount -- will respond automatically to ensure there are enough firefighters on the ground, he noted.

“At night I will assist anyway I can,” he said. “And if there is a major incident, I will make my way there.”

The chief has a lot of support with qualified senior officers in place to manage situations at a call if he is not there.

While there are many new faces at the fire department in the last eight years, Mr.Wagner said he is looking forward to getting to know them and to reconnect with firefighters who were with him previously. Chief Murphy has also been discussing the department with him, so he is coming into the role with a good understanding of where the department is at, he added.

“The fire department is in decent shape,” he said. “Our numbers are down a bit. Dave has been trying to get recruits.”

However, it is becoming more and more challenging to get new personnel. The pressure for certification is intense, he said.

“There is a lot of training and work involved,” he said.

Some of the issues this department and others in Renfrew County and rural Ontario are dealing with include the certification process following the closure of the training college.

The incoming chief said he is looking forward to the job and feels he can provide some continuity to the community and department, instead of having someone come in for a short time and leave.

“They’ve got me for five to six years at least,” he said.

Managing his new dual role is also quite workable, he said, noting the building aspect for his role as CBO is smaller than it was at GM which is one of the fastest growing communities in rural Renfrew County.

Mr. Wagner, who lives in Eganville with his wife, Kim, has called the village home since 1998. He noted she has encouraged and supported him to take on this new role. The couple have two adult daughters who grew up in the community, attending local schools.

A recent report from Chief Murphy showed the department responded to 62 calls in 2022 and 64 in 2021. With an authorized limit of 40 firefighters, the department currently has 25 firefighters – 15 in Eganville and 10 in Foymount. This number does not include new recruits in the training process.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader