From the Editor: October 2016
It was at the Maritime Fire Chiefs Association conference in Sydney, N.S., in July that I realized the dedication, commitment and work required to develop an honour guard.
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality Fire Services lacks an honour-guard division but was hosting the 2016 MFCA conference and annual memorial service – a major event with upwards of 300 guests, dignitaries and families of fallen firefighters. It was crucial to get things right.
Enter Vince Penney, the deputy fire marshal and, as anyone who has ever met or worked with him knows, a fellow who gets things done efficiently and effectively.
Penney pulled together a colour party, ceremonial axes (after a considerable search), pike poles and with pomp, circumstance and darned-near perfection, moulded a group of firefighters from various stations into a proud and pleased-to-serve group that practised for weeks and impressively carried out their duties.
The group comprised rookies and veterans, men and women, who performed with precision despite challenging logistics in the foyer of the local arena, Centre 200, that had been set up for a musical performance and was less-than-conducive to marching and flags.
Still, the presentation of the colours went off seamlessly, a much-deserved salute to the memories of those who served.
I hope the group will stay together, to perform at funerals, in parades and ceremonies, given what the participants learned in the short run up to the MFCA and the pride with which they performed. Maintaining the unit would add an element of dignity and passion to the fire service on the Cape Breton island, and would increase visibility.
As Jordan Paris with Brampton Fire and Emergency Services writes on page 10, developing an honour guard from scratch can be a considerable task but with a committed group, simple uniforms, a desire to represent a department or even a region, it’s possible.
An honour-guard division can be as simple or complex as the department desires, and it can grow as resources become available.
“With just the class-A dress uniform, some strong leadership, and commitment, any department can start an honour-guard unit,” Paris says.
In the amalgamated Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which boasts more than 750 volunteer firefighters and a handful of career staff, it’s important that the fire department ensure the support of residents, government and council.
“Participating in community events will epitomize your department as an active, contributing and relevant part of your municipality,” Paris says.
While some of the events in which honour-guard divisions participate are solemn, other municipal, regional, provincial or even national ceremonies can be exciting and entertaining – a bonding experience for participants and a highlight for the department(s) and the community.
Financial support is always a consideration for honour-guard divisions, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and given the creative skills that most firefighters employ, fundraising should be an easy hurdle.
There’s no doubt in my mind that most departments have a Vince Penney type among the ranks, a motivator who gets things done.
If an honour-guard division interests you, be that leader.