The ancient Greek historian Thucydides once observed, “The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” Of course, he was writing about the soldiers of the Peloponnesian War in the fifth century BCE and not Greater Napanee’s newly promoted interim Fire Chief in CE 2022 — yet what better word is there than ‘brave’ to describe someone who becomes a volunteer firefighter as a “stress reliever”?
Bill Hammond began his career as a firefighter in just that way nearly 27 years ago, when he was working for the Ministry of Corrections in Thunder Bay. Hammond says he was living in South Gillies, Ontario at the time, “and as a stress reliever I became a volunteer firefighter and loved it. So much so that I changed careers… I moved to the [Ontario] Fire Marshal’s office in 2005 and worked as a full-time fire instructor with the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst… until 2010, when I went to Burlington to become the Supervisor of Training there.”
In 2018 Hammond was hired by Greater Napanee Emergency Services (GNES) as Deputy Fire Chief, with a move to the area that brought him and his partner closer to extended family.
Hammond’s partner Jessica is also a firefighter with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Fire Department: “So fire is in our family, in our blood. We both love helping the community and are both active in both departments, for sure.”
Hammond takes over the position following several years of high turnover for the role: he is the fourth new fire chief in five years. Asked if he could provide insight into that turnover, he explained, “This happened primarily through attrition. The fire chiefs before me either retired or moved on to other jobs… There’s been lots of movement in GNES, period… we have a very rigorous training program, and it shines a spotlight on talent… We wish them luck and hope they return at some point with the experiences they gain.”
Hammond will be taking over the top position from John Koenig, who is retiring but for the moment remains active, finishing up some projects with the department, according to Hammond. Kevin Duncan was promoted to Hammond’s former Deputy Fire Chief position. GNES is actively recruiting for 26 part-time paid on-call positions.
Hammond’s new position gives him responsibility for running all aspects of emergency services. Within the Province of Ontario, the delivery of fire protection services is guided by the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (FPPA), including the strategic optimization of the three lines of defence: public fire safety education; fire safety standards and enforcement; and emergency response.
“Emergency response in our world,” explains Hammond, “is everything from medical care and helping the paramedics when they’re busy, right up to motor vehicle collisions, water rescues, [and] elevator rescues. So it’s all-encompassing. Other than that, my day-to-day main job is maintaining the budget, staffing, requirements, apparatus, maintenance, and all aspects in between.”
Hammond has three main areas of focus he would like to champion in his time as Fire Chief: cancer reduction initiatives, mental health awareness, and the previously-mentioned issue of recruitment and retention.
“As everybody knows, cancer is prevalent in our field because of the toxins and carcinogens that we find ourselves in… Moving forward, we’re trying to move our folks into two sets of turnout gear, so when they come back from a dirty call, they can take that set off, wash it and have a spare set to put on right away… Other things like better washing machines, extractors, better ways and administrative processes to clean our gear and decon[taminate] at the scene, and then when we get back, to do a deeper clean,” he explained, adding that some of these initiatives are already under way.
With regards to improving mental health, Hammond would like to see firefighters and their families talk freely about the cumulative effects of firefighting, such as witnessing trauma. “What we’re trying to do is create a peer support team, like some of our fire departments around our area, and involve our families: bring spouses, partners, kids, make it more normal to talk about it instead of… the silent agony that some of our firefighters are going through. Just get it out in the open.”
To find out more about how you can join GNES, or simply to learn more about what you can do to prevent fires and other emergencies, visit GNES online.