It’s been 21 years, but Ken McMullen still remembers his first call as a volunteer firefighter.
“It was a medical call,” said McMullen. “It was a heart attack. That same day I attended a motor vehicle collision.
“You’ll always remember those calls because they were your first.”
As of Monday, McMullen is the fire chief and emergency services manager for Red Deer Emergency Services.
“For me it was a tremendous opportunity,” said McMullen on his new job in Red Deer. “It was a career opportunity to accept the position in a progressive, well run and well establish department.
“It was a natural next step.”
He started as a volunteer firefighter with the Municipal District of Rocky View. At the time he lived in Irricana and worked as a social worker. He worked his way up the hierarchy and because a full-time firefighter with the M.D. of Rocky View.
“I wanted to give back to the community in 1996 and look where I am now some 21 years later as a fire chief.”
He trained as a fire inspector and investigator and took on those roles with the M.D. of Rocky View. He then became a provincial fire investigator for Alberta based in its Calgary office. Then he became the assistant fire chief for the City of Airdrie and then worked for nine years for both the City of Calgary fire department and the city’s emergency management agency.
On top of his regular duties, McMullen is a member of Canada Task Force 2, a volunteer heavy urban search and rescue force.
“I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to attend scenes like the Calgary floods, the Slave Lake fire and most recently the Fort McMurray wildfires,” said McMullen, who worked in their emergency operations centre for 19 days.
“Hopefully we learn from those events and, if nothing else, I have the ability to share my experience from those events.”
His first day on the job, Monday, was self-described as a whirlwind with event after event and an appearance at the Red Deer City Council meeting. One of his top priorities during the early days of his tenure he said was to get out to the stations and to meet all the front line Red Deer Emergency Services workers.
“Being an integrated service, the front line men and women are there for fire calls and ensuring safety from a medical perspective,” said McMullen. “We’re at the beginning of those calls with a dispatcher through to the end. In Calgary, fire, EMS and dispatch were all separate.”
McMullen emphasized the role the Emergency Services can play in community and talked about having more first responders work with schools and community groups to strengthen Emergency Services educational outreach.
The mental health of Red Deer’s fire medics is important to McMullen, calling it a “super-high priority.”
“I remember my first fire fatality, and I remember those first events that had infants involved,” said McMullen. “These are the things we do remember. It’s very important that we have programs to make sure that those who protect the public are also being protected themselves.”