Friday, 25 May 2018 04:57

Swift Current fire chief looking forward to retirement after 35 years of service

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After a career of 35 years in the fire service, Swift Current Fire Chief Denis Pilon is looking forward to  spend more time with his grandchildren and to gaze at the stars during his retirement.


He plans to move to Regina to be closer to his children and grandchildren while he will then also have more time for his hobby, amateur astronomy.
He joined the Swift Current Fire Department in 2008, initially as the deputy fire chief and then since 2010 as the fire chief. His career in the fire service started in his hometown of Melville in 1983 and he was the fire chief at the Weyburn Fire Department before he came to Swift Current.
“I've enjoyed all those jobs, it's been fun, but this has just been a phenomenal way to wind it up,” he said about his time in Swift Current. “It's been a great department, a great community. Swift Current is second to none in my opinion, as far as communities go, and I'm going to miss the community. ... It's been a great community. The people here I'm going to miss. They've been fantastic to work with.”
He will officially retire at the end of August, but he still has some unused vacation time to take before then. He will therefore only be at the office until the end of May.
While he is looking forward to a more relaxed lifestyle without deadlines and constant phone calls, there is one thing he will miss about his job.
“I will miss the people and the interaction,” he said. “The people I've worked with over the years have been phenomenal and I've really enjoyed them.”
He feels positive about his career and the contribution he has made in various leadership roles towards improving the fire service in the province.
“When I first started 35 years ago most small volunteer fire departments didn't have uniforms, limited training and that type of thing,” he said. “We're now seeing certified firefighters on all levels, training is much better, we're addressing safety for our firefighters.”
There is a greater understanding of the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and operational stress injuries (OSI) on first responders and steps have been taken to provide them with appropriate support.
“When I first started it was go home, have a beer and it will go away, “ he said. “Nowadays we're dealing with proper critical incidence stress management, we're bringing in teams to deal with people after a bad incident and we're addressing mental health as well as physical health of our firefighters. It's been a dramatic change and I see that as a change in the fire service in general. It's been very positive. It's been good for Saskatchewan, good for our communities and good for the citizens we protect.”
There are ongoing efforts to ensure that firefighters are provided with a safe work environment. One of the issues that are receiving increasing attention are work related cancers in firefighters. Last year retired Swift Current firefighter Capt. Wyatt Evans passed away after a battle with cancer and Pilon feels it is an important issue to deal with.
“It used to be that a heart attack was the number one killer of firefighters, and now it's cancer,” he said. “We didn't see that coming. We're taking a lot of steps in this department to try and prevent cancer. It used to be that the guy with the dirtiest protective gear was the best firefighter. ... Now we're constantly washing our turnout gear, we replace them when it gets damaged and stuff like that. We're trying to protect our firefighters from cancer.”
The role of a fire chief has changed a lot over the years and there is now a greater emphasis on management skills, education and training, and succession planning within fire departments.
“When I started in this business the fire chief was the guy that was there the longest, and that was even in the big paid departments,” he said. “Nowadays you need to be qualified and trained and have post-secondary education – a certificate, a diploma, a degree, even up to masters degrees. So it has changed dramatically from that perspective.”
Pilon has received a certificate in business administration from SIAST (now Saskatchewan Polytechnic), fire officer and emergency management certificates from the Justice Institute of British Columbia, as well as certificates in fire service leadership and administration from Dalhousie University.
He has been an active member of the Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs (SAFC), Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). In April 2018 he received the SAFC's annual Fire Chief Award of Merit. He is proud of his involvement with these organizations.
“I've been involved in all three organizations, either on the board or at committee level,” he said. “The work that I've done with these fire chiefs from across North America is just phenomenal and to be counted as one of them and in the same room, sitting with people from some of the biggest cities in North America, and discussing issues that affect all of us across North America has been phenomenal.”
He believes it is important for a fire chief to promote the training and ongoing education of firefighters in his own fire department.
“Probably the thing that I've enjoyed the most about the fire service is watching young firefighters come in with little or no knowledge and watching them learn,” he said. “So just to watch them learn and to help support that and to build on that and to give them the opportunities have been phenomenal.”
Pilon was a journeyman electrician in Melville before he decided to focus on a career in the fire service. His family owned an electrical contracting company in the city and he also managed it for five years.
At the same time he was a member of the Canadian Army Reserves for 15 years. He reached the rank of major and commanded an artillery unit in Yorkton, but it started to place too much demand on his time, especially after he got married. He received an opportunity to join the Melville Fire Department in 1983 as deputy fire chief and two years later he became the fire chief.
He became the deputy fire chief in Weyburn in 1990 and at that time closed down the family business in Melville. Three years later he became the fire chief at the Weyburn Fire Department and he served in that position until the move to Swift Current in 2008.
Pilon has been married for 38 years and he has four children and six grandchildren. Three of his children and their families live in Regina and his other child lives in Calgary.
“So the family is there,” he said. “I can hop on a plane in Regina. I can visit my grandkids any time I want, they can come over and visit grandma and grandpa. We can spend some time together and we also would like do to some travelling.”
He has a fifth wheel trailer and he is looking forward to take the road and to discover different parts of the country.
“We'll see where the road takes us,” he said. “When it comes to an end and I see ocean, I guess I'll turn around and head back the other way.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer

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