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May 7, 2014
By Laura King


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May 7, 2014, Toronto - I had planned to write this morning about the speakers, presentations and news at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference, which wraps up tonight. But perhaps that’s better left for another day given the passing this morning of Ajax Fire Chief Mark Diotte .

May 7, 2014, Toronto – I had planned to write this morning about the speakers, presentations and news at the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference, which wraps up tonight. But perhaps that’s better left for another day given the passing this morning of Ajax Fire Chief Mark Diotte.

Mark died 11 months to the day after being diagnosed with brain cancer and, subsequently, lung cancer. I don’t know if Mark’s cancer is work related, but I expect that given his age – Mark was 55 – and his 34 years in the fire service, that it is.

Too many chief fire officers are waging their own wars on cancer – as Mark called his valiant fight.

Helmets were laid Sunday night at the OAFC memorial service for 11 former OAFC members, among them Caledon Deputy Chief Tony Lippers, who died last May of complications from work-related esophageal cancer. Remarkably, OAFC director and St. Catharines Fire Chief Mark Mehlenbacher is in good form after months of health challenges from the cancer he is fighting. There are myriad others.

A week ago, the Ontario government added six cancers to the list of those presumed to be work related. As I said last week, all provinces except Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island have some form of presumptive legislation – which leaves considerable work to be done.

I didn’t know Chief Diotte well, but I do know he was well respected and well liked – which speaks volumes about a leader.

I was having a late dinner at a restaurant in St. John’s during the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs conference two years ago, and had scored a table by the window to watch people walking by on a lovely September night. The service was a little slow because of the number of fire chiefs in town looking for great seafood, but the wine and the company were nice and we were in no hurry. A group walked by the window – obviously fire people given the blue t-shirts and gregarious conversation and laughter. I did one of those double takes – a look and then another look; Mark had taken two steps back to wave and offer us a goofy grin before moving on; it was a silly moment but a silly moment is even sillier when it is courtesy of a six-foot, six-inch fire chief – who I usually saw in uniform during serious meetings – mugging on the streets of St. John’s.

I’m glad I got to see that side of him. Mark’s full-honours fire-service funeral is next Thursday, May 15.


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