Morinville fire chief lands medal
"Ultimate volunteer" has history of hot spots
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 06, 2013 06:00 am
One wonders why Ron Cust isn’t dead yet.
The long-time Morinville resident has been through a ridiculous number of disasters during his 37 years as a firefighter. He’s dropped through floors, been trapped in burning buildings, had a wall fall on him, and taken an exploding propane tanker to the face.
“I’ve got nine lives,” Cust jokes.
Cust was one of 12 Alberta firefighters to receive a Diamond Jubilee Medal from Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths on Feb. 26. The medal, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, honours Canadians who have made significant contributions to their communities.
Alberta fire commissioner Trent West says he nominated Cust to recognize his work in fire safety.
“He’s not the kind of chief who thinks only of what’s in it for me,” West said. “He’s a chief who’s always concerned more about how to best serve Alberta and best serve his community.”
Cust is well known in Morinville for his many years as the town’s fire chief and his work with community events such as the St. Jean Baptiste Festival.
This award should really go to the fire department, Cust said, as it’s through the department that he connects with the community.
“You can’t expect council and the politicians to fix or do everything,” he said. “A strong community is one that has that strong community base.”
Cust has lived in Morinville since 1958 and grew up next to the town’s old fire station. They didn’t have radios before 1982, he noted, so they had to summon firefighters to the hall with a siren.
“Everyone in town knew there was a fire.”
Inspired in part by his firefighting brother-in-law, Gilbert Boddez, Cust said he joined the Morinville fire department in 1976 and has served more or less continuously ever since.
Mayor Paul Krauskopf, who was deputy fire chief at the time, remembers Cust as a rookie with curly, flaming red hair who was always on the front lines.
“He wasn’t afraid to go out there and do what had to be done,” Krauskopf said.
One of Cust’s most intense moments on the job was on Feb. 24, 1983, when he and then-chief Don Found were called to a burning propane tanker truck on Highway 28 north of Namao. The driver was trapped in the cab, and they determined that they had to hack his legs off to get him out.
Cust got an axe but by the time he returned the driver had wiggled free. That’s when Found heard the telltale shriek of a soon-to-blow propane tank.
“I remember the chief saying, ‘It is going to blow now, get down!’” Cust says. “I turned around and the thing blew up, and all I could hear was nothing.”
The Gazette reported that the explosion sent a fireball 150 metres into the air.
The boom could be heard as far away as Bon Accord and left a crater that wouldn’t be fixed for 20 years, Cust said. Truck parts rained down on the cars around him.
“The (truck) frame was spinning in the highway.”
Cust said he was about 15 metres away from the truck when it blew.
“I didn’t realize how close I was until I got back to work,” he said.
The left side of his face was completely singed off, as was most of the hair on one of his hands.
“It was like I had a bad, bad sunburn.”
Cust credits his trained staff and the Lord’s grace for keeping him alive through that and many other incidents. He’s now spearheading efforts to build a joint fire-training centre with St. Albert near Morinville to give other firefighters more live-fire practice.
Communities survive on their volunteers, Krauskopf said, and Cust is “the ultimate volunteer.”
“It’s important for him for other people to have the chance to do what they want to do,” Krauskopf said.
Cust isn’t sure why he’s stayed on the job for as long as he has.
“Eighty per cent of the country is taken care of by firefighters who are in a volunteer capacity,” he said, and they’re sometimes the last people fire victims see in their lives.
“It’s about taking care of all those people in your area.”
Some 60,000 Canadians are being honoured with Diamond Jubilee Medals.