Fire Chief Jack MacDonald is hanging up his helmet after nearly 32 years of putting out fires in Red Deer.
His final day at the Mountview Station 2 firehall is on May 30.
MacDonald said the timing is right to answer the next call of his life.
“There just comes a time when you realize it’s time to spend more energy and time with your wife and family,” said MacDonald,
“The job is pretty much 24/7 and there are times when you say no to things. This opens up the opportunity to say yes to a lot more things.”
On May 1, MacDonald, 56, marked 12 years as Red Deer’s top firefighter.
MacDonald joined the department in 1982 after his wife and friends gently told him his dream of being a professional hockey player wasn’t going to pan out.
He quickly rose through the ranks on the station floor as a lieutenant.
MacDonald became involved with the local firefighters union and was president for an eight-year stint.
“I had the unique opportunity to be at the bargaining table one day with the union and the next day with management,” said MacDonald.
“It helped me develop what I hope is a better balanced perspective of understanding both sides.”
It was challenging to ignore the alarm when it blasted at the fire station during his first few years as chief.
“It was a real forced effort to say that’s not your job anymore,” said MacDonald. “Let the people whose job it is do it.”
He said guidance from his mentor and predecessor Gord Stewart and former directors of development services Bryon Jeffers and Paul Goranson helped ease the steep learning curve.
A laundry list of fond memories of the routine and interesting calls emerged out of his 31 years on the job in the growing city.
MacDonald said he saw three decades of change in the way the fires were fought, which he said was made possible because of city council’s understanding of the need for the right staff, training and tools.
“I had the best job going on the floor,” said MacDonald. “That hands-on direct work is the best, with the instant reward and feedback. In here it is different. It’s bringing in systems or acquiring that training or helping see that it gets done. That’s how you get your reward. It’s a much longer term.”
As fire chief, MacDonald said he was fortunate there were no major emergency situations while he was at the helm. He said Red Deer had half the provincial average for destructive fires in actual dollar loss in 2012. He expects the 2013 figures to be much better.
He said he is proud of the essential part that prevention has become in the fire department. During his tenure, the fire prevention side of the department grew with more officers and more prevention programs delivered in the community.
MacDonald said he is also proud of the ceremonial Red Deer Firefighter Emergency Services’ Honour Guard that marched into the city for the first time about 11 years ago.
“They are such a great group of ambassadors for our department,” he said. “It ties so well together, our military heritage and the professionalism that they demonstrate. Mostly people see that with their marching. It’s just a real positive.”
MacDonald said the fire department is well-positioned for the future. The master plan has been on hold for five years until the Alberta Health Services changes became clear. The city is in the process of finalizing its ambulance dispatch contract with the province.
The city will advertise for a fire chief replacement in the near future.
“It’s been a wonderful career,” said MacDonald. “I went from playing to coaching or managing and I realized it’s time for somebody new to take it further into the future with the right skills and energy that it takes.”
He will remember most working with the dedicated staff at the stations and the City of Red Deer, saying they have strong passion and desire to make the city amazing.
Next up for MacDonald is to cross off some items on his ‘to do’ list at home.
When he is not spending time with his wife Jan or children Dallas, Marshall and Leia, the retired firefighter and hockey player will be on the golf course.