Peace River Fire Department’s fire chief Tim Harris is being recognized for his 32 years of service in many remarkable ways in the next couple of months.
Most recently, Harris was presented with his First Bar at Peace River’s town council meeting by Mayor Elaine Manzer on Nov. 14. The First Bar was given to Harris for completing an additional 10 years of exemplary service to the Canadian Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal he received in 2011 for 20 years of exemplary service.
“It’s a great honour to receive this award as it recognizes the work and sacrifices that I, and many others, have made to the fire service and the community,” says Harris.
“Though it’s hard to believe that it’s been over 30 years already!”
Mayor Manzer says Harris’s 32 years of professional, quiet, dedicated leadership and advocacy have helped integrate the municipal firefighters from Peace River and the southern portion of the County of Northern Lights into one team. She adds over his career he has overseen changes in the medical response aspect of the work and has worked with councils to maintain the departments’ capital items such as fire vehicles and safety equipment.
“His support for the Northern Heat Fire Fighters Conference during which regional firefighters learn and practice their skills has at times attracted over 200 participants from our region to Peace River’s dedicated fire training facility,” says Manzer.
“Many children have learned about fire safety through school tours, presentations and fire hall open houses that chief Harris has supported and organized with his fire departments.”
Harris started his career with the Peace River Fire Department in September 1990 as a volunteer firefighter. He worked for 22 years as a casual firefighter, then earned the full-time role of deputy fire chief for four years, before ultimately being named chief, a role he’s held for the last six years. Currently between Peace River and Northern Lights fire departments there are 40 firefighters working with Harris.
“I had always wanted to be a firefighter but hadn’t had the opportunity before,” says Harris of his decision to join the fire service.
“When I moved to Peace River in 1990, I was new to town and wanted to meet new people. A lady who worked with my wife mentioned that her husband was on the department and that I should go down on a Tuesday night and check it out.”
Harris says that for the type of fire department his house is, that unpredictability can be a challenge for the firefighters and also their families.
“We never know when we are going to be called out and for how long,” he says.
“Firefighters miss family events, or leave in the middle of them, when paged out for a call. They could be back within the hour, or they could be gone for the next 12.”
He adds the role can be physically and emotionally challenging, often dealing with traumatic scenes and then having to jump back into normal life right after. He explains they have supports and procedures in place to help alleviate some of those experiences, so they don’t carry them back into their family life.
“The role of a firefighter can be very disruptive to a family life,” says Harris.
“I would not have been able to achieve this lengthy career without the support from my wife, Erin, and my children, Michael and Emily. I thank them all for their understanding and putting up with it over the years.”
Harris was also nominated for the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal, which he will be receiving at presentation in Red Deer on Dec. 3. He was nominated for the medal by Chief Rodney Schmidt of the High Level Fire Department. A limited number of these particular awards were provided to the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association to recognize Albertans who have demonstrated contributions to Canada, Alberta, or a particular region or community related to fire service.
“I very much appreciate being recognized for contributions to the fire service in this region,” he says.
“It is also a great honour to receive this medal that recognizes and commemorates the 70 years of service by her late Majesty,” he adds.
He says he has had a number of role models in his careers, many he’s met through conferences who have given presentations with enthusiasm and knowledge that he says revigorated the reason for being a chief and leading a department.
“There are chiefs from departments across this Northwest Region of Alberta that have done great things in this region to set the standard for the rest of the province,” he says.
“We are fortunate in the northwest to have great cooperation, collaboration and comradery amongst the chiefs and departments, and are always willing to help each other out.”
He says a highlight of his career is the addition of an Aerial Apparatus (ladder truck) to the Peace River Fire Department fleet. He says the town has been in need for over 20 years and it is currently in production, set to arrive to town early next year.
He explains it is the goal of most chiefs to leave the department better equipped, better trained and in a stronger position than when they took it over, all of which is sometimes a challenge with fiscal restrained, and strained resources and staffing.
“As you move into the chief’s positions, your role becomes less of the actual hands-on doing and more of the administration side,” he explains.
“My goal is to provide the firefighters with the tools, training, and resources to complete the tasks. Their accomplishment on the calls becomes my accomplishments as well. I may lead the team, but without the team, I accomplish nothing.”
As selfless as can be, Harris explains the best part of being a firefighter is what they can give back to their fellow human. Although he’s unsure if he will still be chief at 40 years of service – the next milestone to be officially recognized – he would like to still be involved in fire service in some capacity.
“It is about helping people when they are having a really bad day,” he says.
“If we are called to assist them, whether it’s a fire or a motor vehicle collision, or something else, they need help and if we can make the outcome better in any way, then it is a rewarding feeling.”