Napanee is like a lot of places in Canada. It’s an eastern Ontario town, a cozy place where it seems everyone knows the fire chief, small-town values matter, people worry about the declining fortunes of the Ottawa Senators, and they are button-bursting proud to be the home of pop sensation Avril Lavigne.
They don’t envy the big city – they embrace the small town they love.
Sadly the residents and, more particularly, the fire service in Napanee learned in August that tragedy strikes random targets with cruel ferocity.
Just weeks after losing Fire Chief George Hanmore to cancer, two collisions in the same weekend devastated the small department’s ranks and tragically took the life of the wife of a veteran volunteer.
The collisions left the town reeling and the fire service to confront challenges that were never
contemplated in an evening training session.
Our cover story on page 10 revisits the circumstances of that weekend in a way that I hope will be viewed constructively in Napanee and helpful elsewhere.
Life lessons are often the offspring of cruel experiences: a child learns to respect a closing door once his fingers get caught in a jam; a teen driver learns to check the rear-view mirror after backing into another car. And the fire service in Napanee learned a host of lessons from that awful August weekend that the town will likely never forget. The lessons were learned in Napanee but they apply everywhere else and that’s why we’re sharing them here.
Like the cliché says, hindsight is 20-20 and some of the lessons outlined in our story may seem obvious. But it is also true that fate favours the prepared mind, so it’s hard to imagine that Canadian fire departments don’t need to review procedures, planning and processes.
When I grew up in Cape Breton we spent summers camped out by the ocean in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. More than once that park has been ravaged by fate, whether wind storms or forest fires or spruce budworms killing the forests. Yet without fail, the park renewed itself after each calamity and is as popular a destination now for my family as it was for me as a child decades ago.
Napanee is well along in the renewal process. Having been there I have little doubt that the town, its citizens, and its fire service – bent, but nowhere near broken – will move forward armed with the strength of its people and the lessons learned from tragedy.
On a personal note, I want to thank Deputy Chief Ian Shetler of the Greater Napanee Fire Department for being so generous with his time as this story was researched. Napanee is small but its people are 100 per cent big league.