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Fire chief hangs up his hat

Tim Edwards
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 23, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Albert Headrick is hanging up his hat as Yellowknife's fire chief, and preparing to don the role of fire marshal in Regina, Sask., in January.

NNSL photo/graphic

Fire Chief Albert Headrick, pictured here on Dec. 18 in the Yellowknife Fire Department, will be leaving his position on Jan. 5 to become fire marshal for Regina, Sask. - Tim Edwards/NNSL photo

Headrick said the main reason for the move is family – one of his sons has just moved to Pinawa, Man., and another is returning to Edmonton from a military stint in Afghanistan. In Regina, Headrick said he would be "happily in between" the two cities.

"I've moved around quite a bit in my career ... because I always liked the challenges," he said.

Headrick came to Yellowknife from Swift Current, Sask., where he was deputy fire chief, and before that he had served as fire chief in Manitouwadge, Ont., and fire marshal in Iqaluit back in the 1980s when it was still part of the NWT.

Headrick said he came to Yellowknife facing a lot of challenges but, added "they were good challenges.

"I think people were looking forward to a change.

"I knew some of the issues prior to coming in as a new chief. There was challenges, there's no question about it," he said.

Headrick arrived in Yellowknife in March 2008. At the time he told Yellowknifer internal issues between the staff, management and unions "were allowed to fester" before his arrival.

As a result, morale had gone down, and there was a large turnover of staff.

Headrick said that now things are different.

"Morale, it's turned, as far as I'm concerned, it's turned around 180 (degrees)," he said, attributing the success not to himself but to the co-operation between staff and management in the fire department, with the city, and with the union.

On top of morale issues, the staff turnover presented issues of it's own.

"We had a mass exodus, as you know. We had a lot of new people come in. That was a struggle, in regards to training all the staff on the new equipment," he said.

This struggle gave Headrick a lot of restless nights, he said.

"You have these concerns of making sure the staff have what they need in order to do their jobs. Being an integrated service is not an easy task.

"We have no time to sit, here. We're on the go 24/7 and if we do get the odd time to sit down for a coffee that's basically what it is, because running an integrated service – medical and fire – is very demanding."

Headrick said the new deputy fire chief of safety and training, Craig MacLean, has helped the crew stay on top of their game.

"Understanding the hurdles the guys go through on the floor – being from the floor himself, he can appreciate it," he said.

He also lauded the efforts of deputy fire chief of life safety and prevention, Gerda Groothuizen, attributing a lower amount of emergency calls to her public education campaigns, and called the deputy fire chief of operations, Darcy Hernblad, "the backbone of the organization."

Headrick said that the success of the fire department depends on every employee, not just the fire chief.

Hernblad had good things to say about Headrick as well – particularly his team-oriented attitude.

"Albert (Headrick) was very, very much a team player and it was all about getting the troops to rally together," said Hernblad.

Hernblad said that ever since the tragic deaths of Yellowknife firefighters Cyril Fife and Kevin Olson in the line of duty on March 17, 2005, there have been some tension in the fire hall, though it's lessening over time.

"He was instrumental in getting the (firefighter remembrance monument) completed and that was something that we really needed for some closure ... that was huge to us."

Headrick said he's leaving a fire department with a lot of potential.

"We've got a good organization right now – we've got a very young organization, but we got a very good organization," said Headrick.

Headrick's last day on the job is Jan. 5 and the window closes on replacement applications on Jan. 8.

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