Red Deer’s fire chief is among Canada’s best, says a national association for fire department leaders.
Ken McMullen was named Career Fire Chief of the Year by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in a virtual award ceremony Monday night.
The 23-year firefighting veteran was floored when he heard he had been chosen from almost two dozen nominees from across Canada.
“It’s not often you’ll find me short of words, but I really was speechless — and humbled,” said McMullen on Tuesday.
He knows and looks up to many of the nominees, and to be chosen “has just been an absolutely unbelievable feeling.
“I’m just so proud of all of the people who have gotten me here and I’m still surrounded by some of the most tremendous leaders that this country has to offer in fire and emergency services.”
McMullen became Red Deer’s fire chief in February 2018, coming to the city from Calgary, where he had been with Calgary’s fire department and its emergency management agency.
Trained as a social worker, he began his career as a volunteer firefighter in the Municipal District of Rocky View, rising through the ranks to become a full-time firefighter.
He moved on to become a provincial fire investigator based out of Calgary and then assistant fire chief in Airdrie before returning to Calgary.
Paul Goranson, Red Deer’s general manager of utilities and protective services, praised the contributions of McMullen, who is vice-president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Canadian division director with the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
“He leads by example, whether on duty or off, and is dedicated to the mental health of his staff and others, leading many initiatives related to this important issue,” said Goranson.
McMullen is involved with Wounded Warriors Canada and formed a new peer support team. He has been part of the Before Operational Stress initiative and is involved in the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and the Public Safety Steering Committee.
Emergency management, and all of the complicated leadership, logistics and response challenges that come with it, has become a specialty of McMullen’s.
As a member of Canada Task Force 2, McMullen has been in the front lines tackling disasters such as the 2010 Slave Lake wildfires, the 2013 Calgary and High River floods and the 2016 For McMurray wildfires.
COVID-19 and its potential to create a pandemic disaster has been the most recent and ongoing test for him and countless others in emergency services, government, health and numerous other agencies.
“Many, many leaders in emergency services have been saying for a long time that COVID-19 has been a game changer and a career event,” he said.
Tackling major wildfires and organizing to cope with the largely unseen menace of a pandemic are not so different, he said.
“The principles remain the same,” he said. “The priorities of doing what we can to protect lives, to protect environment, to protect people and structures, all remain the same.”
The difference lies in response timetables, he said. “The urgency is a little bit different.”
In Fort McMurray, timelines were very narrow.
“We wanted to get things done in sections of hours, maybe at the longest, a day or two. Now, with COVID-19, we’ve been planning out events in matters of weeks and months and beyond that.”