Leeds and the Thousand Islands Fire Chief Rick Lawson is getting ready to hang up his hat and park his very large boots.
The 46-year fire department veteran, who has served as Leeds and Thousand Islands fire chief since August 2018, will retire Mar. 1.
"In a lot of ways it will be difficult to fill his shoes – he not only has over 45 years of experience with the Fire Service, but has lived in the community all his life. His knowledge of residents, businesses, history of the community and the fire service, knowledge of the river, islands, and waterways throughout Leeds and Thousand Islands will not easily be replaced at all," said Kym Nicholls, the fire department's administrative assistant.
Lawson joined the local fire department in 1974 as a firefighter and worked his way up through the ranks, acting as station captain for 10 years at Station One in Lansdowne prior to becoming interim fire chief in 2016, and accepting the position of fire chief in 2018.
"Rick Lawson brought stability and calmness to the municipality after a tumultuous time in our fire service history. It was important that our firefighters, along with staff and council, could trust the budgets and ongoing management of the department," said Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke, adding that Lawson provided the leadership the municipality needed without a doubt.
"I count my achievement as coming up through the ranks and not seeing any of my brothers and sisters in the service being killed on the job," said Lawson.
As a first responder Lawson has had to deal with some horrifying incidents in his time on the fire department, and admits it takes its toll, but credits his faith for seeing him through the rough patches.
If there is one thing he says he'll, miss it's the brotherhood of the service and the reward of helping people.
"It's a family lifestyle that you get into on the fire service; you go out together, you work together, you hurt together and celebrate together," said Lawson, "and being in a position to help people really gets into your blood, and I'll miss that, but it’s time."
Lawson was station captain when amalgamation came about, and with it came all the changes of a single station to four stations under one umbrella, and an exponential increase in the distances that had to be travelled.
"You have to go around Charleston Lake or Gananoque Lake to get to certain places in the township, that's why there are four stations, and we have agreements with neighbouring municipalities for places we can't get to," said Lawson.
Since the early days of amalgamation Lawson has seen the department grow from 25 firefighters to almost 100.
Lawson will be leaving on Mar. 1, and plans to enjoy spending more time outdoors, hunting and fishing.
"This year we're at 82 firefighters and we're bringing in 25 recruits, and once those recruits go through all the training (a few will drop out) we'll be at about 100 strong,” said Lawson.
Growing up in Leeds and the Thousand Islands and raising two children, Lawson has been heavily involved in the community.
He was a leader with the Boy Scouts for 20 years, and served on the Community Watch program, was a member of the Recreation Committee and ran all kinds of programs over the years, he said.
"Rick Lawson has a true community spirit about him. He is kind and caring to all individuals both on the fire service as well as victims he has assisted over the years as a firefighter," said Smith-Gatcke.
Lawson believes he's leaving the township fire service in good shape, but says it will be important for the service to continue to keep up with the new technologies, and in keeping with his character, says he believes the focus needs to be on protecting firefighters.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times