Remembering a fallen colleague
By Peter Sells
Aug. 13, 2008
Right now, I’m getting ready for a day that I will never forget. I have had two occasions in the past to deliver eulogies for colleagues who had passed away off the job, and I remember each of those in crystal clear detail. So I know that Friday will be no different, as I say goodbye to my friend of 17 years, District Chief Bob Leek. As most of you will know by now, Bob died in the line of duty on Sunday, Aug. 10, at the Sunrise Propane fire.
By Peter Sells
When I was first assigned to the Fire Academy, on my
first day as an acting training officer in fact, Bob introduced himself to me,
welcomed me to the team and offered his assistance to me in any way. In the
years that we worked together I came to know that he never made such offers
lightly or out of mere courtesy. Much has already been written this week about
Bob’s character but I will repeat it anyway. He was a man of high intelligence.
He had an uncanny ability to take complex technical and organizational problems
and break them down to their component parts until each was a clear-cut
question of yes/no, up/down, black/white. Later on, this unique trait would
earn him the nickname “Binary Bob”, which I suspect he rather enjoyed although
he feigned annoyance. As my acting district chief for about five years, Bob
proved himself to be invaluable as a right-hand-man, confidante, sounding board
and consultant. Whenever I was to be off on assignment or vacation, Bob would
meet with me in advance for a briefing on what projects were on the go, which
staff were tasked with which assignments and what results or deliverables were
expected. Upon my return I would receive an itemized report on those same items
as well as anything that had come up in the interim. In short, Bob was
everything you would hope for in a co-worker and colleague.
How and when Bob got into paintball I don’t exactly
remember, but with his military background and his technical expertise the
world was never quite the same. I remember he was showing me how he had
modified one of his paintball guns to automatically reload and fire faster than
the original design. I understood at first but eventually had to just nod and
agree. Several months later I was at my desk on a phone call when he appeared
at the door in full paintball gear, looking like a cross between Darth Vader
and Rambo, raised his gun and fired air at me “bap-bap-bap-bap-bap”. We were
doing some training with a neighbouring fire department at the time, and its
yellow aerial was in our training ground. So I asked Bob to load up and we went
outside and attempted to paint the aerial red, like all respectable fire
trucks. All of this was done while
respecting all relevant safety protocols, of course.
One of my favourite memories of Bob was the time we
went to a pre-season NFL game at the Dome, and received these plastic buckets
courtesy of Budweiser. The idea was to get your picture on the Jumbotron
wearing the Budweiser bucket on your head, and you would get prizes from the
Bud girls. So, we did. We didn’t win anything, but at one point Bob looked at
me and said “I don’t know about me, but you look ridiculous.” There’s no comeback to that. He scored first.
Bob left my group at the Academy in 2001 to work on
emergency planning. This was the perfect environment for him, and he was the
perfect selection to take the helm of that important function in 2006. The
adage that “failure to plan is a plan for failure” could well have been
tattooed on the back of Bob’s hand. His exemplary attention to detail and
extraordinary focus served as a model for his team. He relished the active
nature of his job and the opportunity to serve in a support role at major
incidents. In was in this capacity that Bob was at the scene on Sunday,
surveying damage to homes in the vicinity of the explosions. Certainly he has
left us too soon, but I am also certain that he was having a good day.
Bob Leek was one of the good guys. He will be
missed. He is already missed.