New Minden Hills fire chief Nelson Johnson said people have been coming up to him and saying, “I bet you find it cold here.”
But when he tells them he’s just moved from Nunavut, they retort “I bet you find it warm here.”
“And I really do right now find the weather just absolutely beautiful down here,” Johnson said during a break in last Thursday’s council meeting. “It’s not bad up north, but a little bit longer season.”
Johnson is going through a “big culture change” as he takes over from interim fire chief Mike Bekking and before that, fire chief Doug Schell. He started Jan. 13.
It’s early days but Johnson said he’s enjoying the area and the brand-new fire hall on Highway 35.
“I’ve been meeting all the firefighters and going on a few calls. So, I’m getting to know them. They seem like a wonderful, capable group of people, so I’m very excited to stay here for the long term.”
In the short term, over the next year or so, he said he’s excited to learn more about what local volunteer firefighters do and how they come together as a team to work well together to help the community. He is also hoping to improve community programs.
He said one of the biggest challenges to date is finding his way around, because he doesn’t know the roads network. He’s also studying Ontario fire legislation since it’s a new province of work for him.
He is confident he will figure that out in time, “but the biggest part is to learn how this fire department works and to fit myself into there. I didn’t come here to change it to my way because my way might not be the right way. So, I’m here to learn how they deal with things and the way it works and then we can work on improving ourselves.”
He said he understands there is an aspect of making the job his own, and he has talked to staff about their wants and needs.
“There’s some changes that we need to make but it’s not big changes about changing the fire department but about honing our skills and honing our response times. Or the way we work safely out there, to protect ourselves a little bit better because now we have all this information about cancer and PTSD. So, I can bring some of that knowledge here that will help us improve our safety for our firefighters so they have a long longevity here of being able to help and assist.”
He comes from a strong fire training background. He’s been an instructor for 28 years and worked for a training centre that saw 40,000 firefighters come through the door, “so a little bit of training skills there,” he said with a chuckle.
In his role as chief for Minden Hills, Johnson will be responsible for the fire and emergency services for the township, carrying out the administrative duties of the fire department and for the proactive leadership, policy and overall operations of the fire services.
He has more than 25 years experience in the fire service, both in the field and in various senior leadership roles, such as training officer, deputy chief and fire chief.
Johnson’s career includes Firemaster Oilfield Services, the Town of Bonnyville, Alberta and the City of Iqaluit, Nunavut.
For now, he said his life is all about getting settled into the job and getting his family settled into their routine. They have found housing but are not yet moved in.
“I really appreciate the opportunity I’ve been presented here and I look forward to working with the volunteers and I’ve already seen that they’re a great group of people.”