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Aug. 25, 2014, Sydney, N.S. – I was humbled when I received an e-mail a few months ago from Lt. Art Sutherland with the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department inviting me to speak at the department’s 60th anniversary celebration. (You can see our Facebook photo gallery here.)

August 25, 2014 
By Laura King

Aug. 25, 2014, Sydney, N.S. – I was humbled when I received an e-mail a few months ago from Lt. Art Sutherland with the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department inviting me to speak at the department’s 60th anniversary celebration. (You can see our Facebook photo gallery here.)

I was also surprised because, although I present at conferences about media coverage of events, and Twitter, I’m not a fire-service leader, and I was delighted because the department is up the street from where I grew up in Sydney, I’ve known the chief since high school, and the invitation presented an opportunity and a challenge.

Of course, as a volunteer fire department of 20 members that does a considerable volume of fundraising to supplement its municipal grants, Lt. Sutherland and Chief Brent Boyle admitted outright that they hoped I might be home on Cape Breton Island on Saturday, Aug. 23, and able to attend. In other words, the invitation did not include transportation to Sydney from Toronto.

I hadn’t planned to be in Nova Scotia in August, so I crafted a very persuasive e-mail  to my publisher, who graciously covered the airfare (after he read my impossible-to-resist pitch and asked if I’d ever thought about switching to sales!)


As all speakers know, logistics are always a concern and since – like most fire people and all editors – I’m a Type-A paranoid personality, I stopped at the fire hall Friday afternoon to get the lay of the land. No problem, I was told; the multi-talented firefighter/sound-system guy, Mike Hussey, would see to all my video and audio needs. And that he did. I went back to the hall Saturday morning – hours before the presentation just to be sure – and a little while later, after some minor glitches and two quick trips to find the right audio cable, we were set.

I was particularly antsy because, after agonizing over what to talk about to a room full of volunteer firefighters and officers, their spouses, local politicians and invited guests – and a chief who was counting on me – I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea: I’d ask the real speakers – the fire-service icons who I’ve watched and listened to at conferences from coast to coast – for a really big favour; to share their wisdom on leadership and firefighter safety with the members of the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department through my presentation – and I really, really didn’t want the PowerPoint to fail because of bad sound a wonky projector (or, for that matter, operator error!).

Originally, I had emailed some of of North America’s most sought-after fire-service speakers and asked for their favourite video links to share with the members in Mira Road, but minutes after pressing send I was one-upped by one of them, who offered to make a personalized video congratulating the department on its 60 years and share some words of wisdom. Others followed suit. I was blown away!

After a bit of silliness Saturday night to break the ice and give everyone an opportunity to stretch their legs after dinner – some dancing to singer Cee Lo Green’s video tribute to volunteer firefighters – and jokes about Lt. Sutherland’s typo in his original e-mail in which he inadvertently said the event was Aug. 3 rather than 23 (everyone needs a good editor!), I ran the presentation.

And there, in the Mira Road fire hall – 20 members, one tanker, one pumper, 70 calls so far this year (the most since inception in 1954) and a scaled-back 60th anniversary celebration due to fundraising challenges – on the freshly painted back wall of the truck bay, which doubled as a PowerPoint screen – were Billy Goldfeder, Rich Gasaway, Ryan Pennington, Les Karpluk, Bob Krause and Jason Hoevelmann (with contributions from Gord Shreiner) – a virtual who’s who of the North American fire service.

Besides congratulating the second-oldest fire department on Cape Breton Island on its 60 years of service, these fire-service icons talked about pride and commitment and dedication to training and doing the mundane when it feels, well, mundane so that what’s learned on Tuesday or Wednesday nights becomes second nature at 3 a.m.; they also talked about passion.

And passion is what I found at the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department.

Chief Boyle is of my vintage – we both just celebrated milestone birthdays. He’s been the chief for 20 years and has belonged to the department for 31 years (which made him 19 when he joined – you can do the math!). We talked Saturday morning – while a gaggle of firefighters painted that back wall and set up tables – about post-traumatic stress and the fact that there’s no municipal support for PTSD for volunteer firefighters. The department has responded to a grisly fatal MVC and two eerie structure fires in the last couple of weeks. We talked about the fact that although the department is part of the amalgamated Cape Breton Regional Fire Service, it essentially operates autonomously with its own budget, fundraising, officers, training and trucks. Its service area has grown as other fire departments have run out of members and money. Yet it’s a vibrant hub of a department with rookies, keen captains who are mentoring recruits, and senior officers who have decades of experience to share.

Mira Road firefighters also responded a few weeks ago to a fire in a seniors building; a resident had caught her clothes on fire while cooking. She died in hospital. Councillor Ivan Doncaster brought this up in his brief speech Saturday night and became emotional when he shared the family’s gratitude and with members of the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department, who all attended the funeral. The family, Doncaster said, was overwhelmed that emergency responders, who didn’t know the woman, would come en masse to pay their respects.

I learned way more Saturday night from the firefighters at the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department than they learned from me or any of the fire-service gurus on the back wall – about commitment and passion and dedication and community.

My challenge was simply to engage a room full of firefighters and their guests for 45 minutes. Their challenge, under Chief Boyle’s remarkable 20 years of leadership, is far, far greater.

And every day they meet it head on.

Once again, I was humbled.

Congratulations to the men and women of the Mira Road Volunteer Fire Department: Chief Brent Boyle, Deputy Chief Carl Oakley, Assistant Deputy Chief Lance Oakley, safety officer Glenn MacLean, captains Andy Mahar, Dana Locke and Mark Killam, lieutenants Art Trenchard, Mike Hussey and Art Sutherland, firefighters Shayne Mroz, Kyle Drysdale, Lawren MacKinnon, John MacCormick, Ryan Mann, Shaun Hickey, Paula Hickey, Krista Rose, Brittany Boyle and Michael Williams, and trustees Richard Munro, Gary Murphy and Vince MacLean.

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