By Phil McLachlan
Dean Spry has been named the new Fire Chief of the Sparwood Fire Department, and will be stepping into this role on December 1.
Spry came to the city of Sparwood in March of 2014, after the municipality at the time had created the new full time position of Deputy Director of Fire Services, or Deputy Fire Chief.
“The plan was that the person they hired would succeed into the Fire Chief’s position, if everything worked out,” said Spry. “So I guess things worked out.”
Jim Jones, the current Fire Chief has close to 40 years experience in the fire service. Before serving for five years in Sparwood, Jones spent 34 years in Edmonton. Coming to Sparwood, Jones put his experience to good use, developing a new mentality, which restored the moral of the fire department.
“Jones has done an excellent job of bringing the guys back together,” said Spry. “He’s loyal to the fire service and to the community, and he wants to do what’s best for the public, the firefighters and the council.”
Spry believes he brings to the table many years of experience, from his services as a Fire Chief in five different departments across North America.
Originally from Ontario, Spry worked through his volunteer ranks, and became the first Fire Chief in his hometown of Coboconk, Ontario. From there, Spry moved on to become Fire Chief in the town of Lakeshore, and then to Kitimat to become the Deputy Chief, and finally to Campbell River as the new Fire Chief. Now in Sparwood, Spry plans on staying a while, looking towards eventual retirement.
“I like the seasons, I don’t like the rain on the Island,” Spry said with a smile.
With over 38 years in the service, Spry became involved with the Fire Department after seeing his father in the position of Fire Chief in his hometown. In a family of six kids, two of the three boys became a part of the volunteer fire department.
Comparing his 18-year-old mentality to his current viewpoint on life, Spry believes his motivations and thought processes have changed on the job scene.
“When you’re a new recruit, you’re all gung-ho,” he said. “You jump out of that bed in the middle of the night, you’re dressed and out the door within two minutes and on your way to the fire station. I can say that after 38 years, I don’t have that same zip… I still want to get up. I still get excited; the adrenaline gets pumped up every time your pager goes off and you have to go to a call.”
On the way to a call, Spry thinks differently than when he was a rookie. Spry focuses now on thinking ahead about potential hazards, such as hazardous materials, possibilities of explosions or people inside the building.
As an officer, you’re thinking more of the safety of the firefighters, safety of the public and what you’re going to do to mitigate the incident.”
Spry sees the time commitment as the hardest part of being involved with the fire department.
“People don’t realize that, whether you want to call them volunteers or paid on call, they give a lot up in family life because they have a regular job, they have family they have to appease as well, and they also have their own hobbies and interests they work in,” said Spry.
In addition to reporting on call, Spry explained how much expectation is put on training. His goal with the volunteers is to ensure that people are paid, professional, and safe.
“We train them over and over again to do things instinctively,” said Spry. “So that when it is an emergency situation, it comes naturally to them, to be able to do the tasks that they need to do.”
“We try to emphasize from day one when they get here, that when you’re not working, we expect you to be here when there’s training to be done.”
Fifteen of Sparwood’s current members, around 50 per cent, have four years or less experience. Spry sees this as the average for North America. After five or six years training, Spry sees some move on, depending on changes in their lives. Several officers in Sparwood are over 25 years experience, and one will be receiving his 25-year medal in the upcoming year.
Throughout his years of experience, Spry’s biggest lessons have come through unpredictable circumstances.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned, is be prepared,” he said. “Don’t get complacent in what we do, because it’s not always going to be the same when we go there.”
The fire department is a much different environment than when Spry first joined the service. Back when he joined the department at the age of 18, it wasn’t macho or acceptable to bring forth emotional issues that firefighters face every day. Spry sees PTSD affect people involved in emergency services across the board, and he is grateful that awareness is becoming a reality.
“You’re dealing with people’s lives, and you’re dealing with stressful situations. Things that people see on TV, and it doesn’t affect them,” said Spry. “We see some of that stuff in real life, and it does affect you.”
Looking towards the future, Spry hopes he can continue to help the fire department grow in members and excel in their services.
“Jim Jones has brought the members together, certainly I want to carry that on and make this department run seamless and smoothly,” said Spry.
Spry brought up the involvement of the city council in relation to the fire department.
“Not all my experiences as a Fire Chief have been what I would call, rewarding. Sometimes you get politics playing into the situation, and I can say that from my experience here in Sparwood, the council and the CAO are very supportive of the volunteers and the fire department, and they do everything they can to make that appreciation known to the members,” said Spry. “That makes a big difference.”
Currently the Sparwood Fire Department is seeking a new Deputy Fire Chief, to replace the position that Spry is stepping out of. The posting closed on November 25, and as of the 23rd, they did not have any internal applications.
Spry will be taking on a position of authority, which comes with it a more direct interaction with the public, and will hold a firm hand in the internal workings of the department. A deputy is more involved with the department members and works closely with all training events. Both positions are very intertwined, and require a large amount of commitment.
“We do it because we love what we’re doing, but we also want to provide a good service to the community,” said Spry.