Between the military and fire departments across Canada, Grand Forks Fire/Rescue’s Deputy Chief Stephane Dionne has served in every province in confederation, plus this country’s northern territories.
He told The Gazette he is “very type-A,” meaning he’s adept at taking charge. His resumé backs that up — in spades.
He was an aircraft mechanic with the Canadian Air Force for 25 years. Even then, he worked on life-saving equipment: life rafts and emergency escape systems. He became a volunteer firefighter almost by chance.
He and his wife Denise were settling into their new home in Cold Lake, Alberta when she noted that the local fire department was recruiting. He was bored at the time, he said. “So, I went in on a Tuesday night in March 1993 and I’ve never stopped since then.”
“It’s her fault that I became a firefighter,” he joked.
Whatever his reasons for serving, he is very clear about why he’s kept it up.
“I will tell you a story,” he said, remembering a roof fire at a family home when he was a young captain.
He set about salvaging the family’s valuables as the rest of the crew fought to contain the blaze. Passing a child’s bedroom, Dionne said he noticed a Winnie the Pooh tea set.
Carrying the set outside, “I said to myself, ‘that has to be priceless for this kid.”
“We saved the first and second floor, and even though we lost the roof, we saved the house, itself.”
Three weeks later the department received a card from the family. “Thank you for saving my grandmother’s tea set,” it read.
“That made me feel like I was Superman,” he recalled, “because not everyone can have that effect on people.”
“That’s why I keep doing what I’m doing here.”
Dionne, who retired from the military in Comox, said he loves staying in Grand Forks because the move brought his family under one roof.
He has a 23-year-old son, but Dionne said it was for wife Denise to decide if the couple will retire in Grand Forks. “She’s earned that right,” he said, stressing that the couple has been married for 33 years.
“Serving in the military, I told her, ‘the first 25 years are mine and the rest is yours.’ I don’t know why she stayed with me.”
For now, Dionne has put his mind to helping his “customers,” so many Grand Forks residents whose tax dollars pay his salary.
“They are the ones who allow me to wear the uniform I have on … If they can do that, then it’s my role is to give them the best service we can provide them. That’s my only purpose here.”
Dionne, Deputy Chief Rich Piché and Chief George Seigler are the only paid members at Grand Forks Fire/Rescue. The rest, he will tell you, volunteer their time to serve the department’s customers.