Morinville fire chief hangs up his hat
Ron Cust steps down, but not out, after 12 years
Wednesday, Feb 19, 2014 06:00 am
Morinville’s top firefighter is hanging up his hat – but he’s not leaving the fire-hall just yet.
Ron Cust announced his retirement as Morinville’s fire chief last week. The long-time town resident has been the town’s fire chief for 12 years and a member of the town’s fire department for 35.
Cust said it was time for him and the Morinville Fire Department to move on.
“The town of Morinville is at a tipping point,” Cust said. It’s growing, and it has needed a bigger, more professional and more complex fire department in recent years.
Cust found that in recent years he’s had to work evenings, weekends and vacations just to keep up with his job as chief – and it’s a part-time gig. Meanwhile, he’s been spending his days working for the provincial Office of the Fire Commissioner.
“I came to the conclusion that the best thing was to focus on what I could do provincially, which was going to help my department at home,” Cust said.
As of March 11, Cust said he would step down as the town’s fire chief to focus on his work for the province developing the new Fire Act. He would, however, stay on call as a fire investigator with the town and as a parliamentarian with the Morinville Firefighters Foundation.
Mayor Lisa Holmes praised Cust for his long history of service with the community.
“Over the past 12 years, he has been responsible for ensuring that our community has been protected,” she said. “Although we will miss him as our chief, Ron has left the organization in good hands.”
How times have changed
A town resident since 1958, Cust, 55, grew up next to Morinville’s old fire hall.
Inspired by his firefighting brother-in-law, Gilbert Boddez, Cust joined the department in 1976. With the exception of a two-year stint with the Morinville Ambulance Authority, he’s been with the department ever since.
“I had the biggest afro you ever saw,” he recalled of those early days. “Now I’m leaving and I don’t have any flipping hair!” (The hair loss was natural and not fire-related, he added.)
“Firefighting has changed so, so much in regards to the equipment,” Cust said. Firefighters regularly worked without air tanks in those early days, and had little more than cotton mitts and rubber gloves for protective equipment.
“We never think about getting to a fire even if it’s cold and having our pump frozen up” nowadays, he continued, but that actually happened at one fire near Mearns in the late 1970s.
When they tried to thaw the pump out with a propane blowtorch, they found the propane had gelled solid. The backup pump was frozen too.
“All of a sudden the chief looks at me and says, ‘Tell them to get as many buckets as possible,’” Cust said. The team formed a bucket-brigade and put out the fire.
Another big change has been public expectations, Cust continued. Today’s residents expect their firefighters to be professionals, and Morinville’s force is staffed with fully trained operatives.
Cust has also led a push to build a joint firefighter-training centre with St. Albert near Morinville. It’s now under construction, and should be ready for use by May, Cust said.
Cust received a Diamond Jubilee Medal last year for his many years of work in fire safety.
Stepping into Cust’s role is acting chief Brad Boddez, a 27-year veteran with the department.
“Ron was a fantastic chief,” Boddez said, and left some big shoes to fill. Still, Cust also left him with some great gear and people, both of which should help the department become even better as it moves towards becoming a full-time force.
Cust said he would take a six-month break from the fire department to give the department time to settle in.
Cust said the biggest change to his life would probably be to his Wednesday nights, as he would no longer have to take part in the department’s weekly training sessions.
“It’s going to be a full night’s sleep!”
Cust thanked his wife, Karen, his family and the town for their years of support.