WINDSOR, N.S. — Changes are afoot at the Windsor Fire Department.
As consolidation efforts between Windsor and West Hants municipalities intensify, changes at the fire station are already starting to take shape.
Come December, Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess will be handing over the reins to deputy fire chief Jamie Juteau, who will serve as the acting chief until bylaws can be amended to change the position back to a volunteer role.
“This will go back to its volunteer roots — it’ll be a volunteer position once the bylaws are changed and approved by our membership,” said Juteau, who has served the Windsor Fire Department for 24 years.
A few years ago, at the request of the Town of Windsor, Burgess began taking building and fire inspection courses in addition to serving as the fire chief. He is currently a qualified level 2 building official (inspector) and a certified level 1 fire inspector and serves the town in that capacity.
On Nov. 13, he was hired by West Hants to serve a similar role for them.
“My employer, the town, has agreed to a service agreement with the Municipality of the District of West Hants to share my services, mainly fire inspection, as West Hants requires this as well,” explained Burgess in an email.
“I have also been appointed as an assistant building official in West Hants as well to be able to offer back up and assistance as needed to their building officials. This service agreement makes sense to all parties as it is mutually beneficial. This also ties into the spirit of cooperation and the upcoming consolidation of the two municipalities.”
Due to the changes, it also means Burgess will have little time to continue to commit to being the chief, which has been a paid post since 2002.
As such, Burgess, who has served 30 years as a firefighter — 10 years as a paid fire chief, is planning to retire on Dec. 1.
“I started filling in for Chief (Fred) Fox in October 2008, thinking I was just going to cover his time off. I never dreamt or hoped that I would ever replace him. I never, ever thought I would. We all assumed he was coming back,’” said Burgess in a phone interview, reflecting on his time with the fire service.
Fox died in 2009 from mesothelioma – a cancer that is often linked with firefighters due to their exposure to asbestos from burning buildings. He had joined the Windsor Fire Department in 1971 and was selected to be the successor of long-time fire chief Walter B. Stephens.
“I was writing up my email to our members today (Nov. 16) and… I was thinking, I was the third chief in 60 years and Jamie will be the fourth chief in 70 years,” said Burgess, noting the milestone shows just how strong and committed the organization is.
The WFD began providing service in 1881.
“Starting next week, I’m working out of three offices, with five different phone numbers, two different email addresses and so on and so on,” said Burgess.
“I think I wanted to make a clean finish right now while I can still do that and hand it over to Jamie in good hands rather than try to drag that on and try to manage all of that because it just wouldn’t have worked... I look forward to Jamie taking the lead.”
Looking towards the future
Burgess said he’s almost ready to take a step back from leading the organization he loves, and says he’s leaving it in good hands.
“Any type of regional service, supportive of each other and cohesive, is a good thing. Chief Fox and I used to talk about it and expected to see it some day. Unfortunately he didn’t get to see it. I hope that I will,” said Burgess.
“Even a year or so ago, I had mentioned to Jamie that I want to step back when it comes time to start negotiating or to start planning for this consolidated regional service,” said Burgess, adding it’s important to have someone lead the department during the transition who plans to remain with the organization for a number of years.
“I want the people who are going to be there and live with that destiny that they set to be able to set that destiny and ensure that everybody in our organization and the other organizations can work together,” he said.
Juteau has served as a deputy chief since 2010 and was a captain and lieutenant prior to that. He said Burgess has worked hard to better the fire department and thanked him for his support and years of service.
“Scott has served the department, the town, and the Municipality of West Hants as well, in a major way. He’s committed a lot of time, made a lot of personal sacrifice, and he’s moving on to different things and I wish him well on his future endeavors,” said Juteau.
“He’s always served the department with the best intentions.”
During his time as chief, Burgess spearheaded a memorial project to honour the late Fox. He also fought to preserve the fire department when West Hants’ council of the day severed ties and created its own fire service.
He said the good times always outweighed the bad, and those fond moments are what he holds onto.
Burgess said he hopes the WFD remains a staple in the provision of fire service long into the future.
“Not knowing what kind of model that will end up here in a couple of years, I truly hope that there is absolutely still a fire station in the proximity of where there is one now because it works for the area, the growth areas and all around it. I think it’s critical to some of the responses and times,” said Burgess.
“I hope there are no drastic changes in that right away until it’s all looked at very professionally — more so professionally than politically. I trust that that will happen, I think, as we go into this larger government body.”
Juteau said he’s looking forward to guiding the station into the future.
“We have lots of potential here; lots of talent in the fire service side and I think, amongst all of us, we’ll be bringing the best service possible to the customer,” said Juteau, referring to working with neighbouring departments to build a functioning regional fire service.
In the immediate future, Juteau said he’s working alongside fellow volunteer firefighters to complete some projects, including renovations at the station, and they’re looking into upgrades to apparatus.
Juteau said the transition should be pretty seamless.
“It’s not until the first of December. I have been taking on more and more of those responsibilities on the go forward as we get up to that,” said Juteau, noting the senior management team in the fire department is also taking on additional tasks.
“Everybody is more than willing to help. It’s a team effort. It’s not a one man show. I’m lucky enough to say that I have the talented staff to make it happen.”