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Comment: A true fire service hero

The news came like a punch in the stomach.

Bob Leek, the respected district chief of emergency planning for Toronto Fire Services, died Aug. 10 at the scene of the horrific propane plant explosion in the city’s northwest end.

September 18, 2008
By Laura King


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The news came like a punch in the stomach.

Bob Leek, the respected district chief of emergency planning for Toronto Fire Services, died Aug. 10 at the scene of the horrific propane plant explosion in the city’s northwest end.

As early word came in of the tragic turn of events, I found myself staring rather numbly at the words on the screen. We all think we’re busy. We’re all in a rush. The monthly production cycle of a magazine is rewarding and frustrating to varying degrees depending upon the battles won and lost, just like everyone’s job.

And suddenly, this tragedy brought perspective to what the rest of us see as the travails of everyday life.

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By all accounts, Leek was a teacher and mentor, a beacon of knowledge who illuminated the minds of coming generations of fire service professionals and lit the way for important elements of the future Toronto’s fire service.

He joined the service in 1983 and after a relatively short time in direct fire fighting, moved to support, where he distinguished himself in ways that would enrich the entire fire service for years to come. In the mid 1990s he received an award for implementing a new training program that enabled the department to keep track of each firefighter’s training progress.

A former colleague described him as meticulous. “If you had a job that had 1,000 steps that needed to be done in a specific order, Bob was the guy,” Scott Codwen, recruited with Leek in 1983 and later his boss, told the Toronto Star. “He’d do the jobs that I couldn’t trust with anybody else.”

Line-of-duty death is a phrase that makes the blood run cold in the fire service, a service fraught with danger. That danger can sometimes get lost in the mundane chores of daily duty, but that fact only highlights the importance of the work of people like Bob Leek.

Instituting innovative training. Educating and inspiring young recruits. Being a mentor and leader. These things matter most at the time of crisis when everyone has to know that what they have been taught is the right thing to do.

Leek was Toronto’s first line-of-duty-death since 2001. He rushed to the scene of the Sunrise Propane explosion to deliver an ATV to on-site colleagues. He stayed to help with the evacuation of thousands of terrified, confused residents, who must have found comfort in his reassuring demeanour. He was later found collapsed on a sidewalk.

He leaves his wife of 22 years and an adult son. At Fire Fighting in Canada, we join those from coast to coast offering condolence to his family; we mourn his loss and celebrate his contributions in equal measure.

Bob Leek made a difference. As Premier Dalton McGuinty said, he is a true hero.

Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout, and quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me, to guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if according to my fate I am to lose my life this day, Please bless with your protecting hand my family this I pray.
– The Firefighter’s Prayer


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