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45 blazing years

Legal’s Mike Gagne honoured for lifetime of firefighting
1809 CountyFireGuy 8545 km
SUPER VET – Lt. Mike Gagne shows off the award he received from the Sturgeon County Emergency Services Department last week at the annual long-service awards ceremony for his 45 years with the Legal Fire Department. Gagne is the second firefighter to receive this recognition since the county started its long-service awards and one of only two known firefighters in the county that are still on the force after 45 years. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazette

A Legal firefighter has gotten the axe – literally – in recognition for his 45 years of community service.

About 100 firefighters and dignitaries were at the Sturgeon County Protective Services Headquarters on Tuesday, Sept. 10 for the 7th annual Sturgeon County Emergency Services Long-Service Awards.

One of the recipients was Lt. Mike Gagne of the District of Legal Fire Department, who received a chrome-plated fire axe and a standing ovation to mark his 45 years as a Sturgeon County firefighter.

Sturgeon County deputy fire chief Brad Reid told the crowd that Gagne was only the second firefighter in the county to reach the 45-year mark since these long-service awards started, the first being Bud Rockwell of the Morinville Fire Department (who is now in his 48th year of service). Gagne started firefighting back in 1974 – the same year Richard Nixon resigned as U.S. president.

“To put it in perspective – really sorry, Mike – I was seven years old,” Reid said.

Long career

Gagne said that he joined Legal Fire back then because he had several friends in the department.

“Actually, you were supposed to wait until you were 16, but I got to start a month early because it was in the spring and there was lots of grass fires,” he recalled – up to three a day sometimes. “It was a busy summer.”

Gagne said he and fellow firefighter Mitch Prefontaine always left the classroom window open a crack so they could hear the town’s fire siren. When it went off, they’d dash down to the fire hall, don their hip-waders, coats, and primitive charcoal air filter packs, and hop onto the 1965 Ford pumper truck to head to the call.

Gagne said he’d been on the front lines of a lot of major fires in his career, but the biggest was probably the Alberta Game Farm/“red barn” blaze east of Legal in the 1980s which destroyed several buildings and burned for miles.

At one point during it, he and another firefighter realized they were trapped between the fire and a 12-foot-tall game fence.

“It was so smoky we could hardly see nothing,” he said, and they had no choice but to climb the fence. By the time they dropped down the other side, the fire was right on the other side.

“We ran for quite a ways.”

Gagne said he’s stuck with the fire service all this time because he enjoys helping others.

“When there’s a fire or a medical aid (call), we’re the first guys there.”

Gagne was one of 34 firefighters recognized at the ceremony, which included Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal recipient Jamie Primmer and Alberta Emergency Service Medal recipients Craig Morrissey and Shawn Machiskinic of the Legal Fire service.

Sturgeon County Fire Chief Pat Mahoney said paid on-call volunteers were the backbone of fire departments throughout North America, and he commended all those at last week’s ceremony for their commitment to their community. Gagne himself brought some 45 years of honesty, integrity, and leadership to his department.

“He’s been through and seen a lot more than a lot of us, and he is certainly a great mentor for the younger folks entering the service,” Mahoney said.

Gagne may be retired from his day-job rescuing people who fall into oil tanks at industrial sites, but he said he still hoped to serve another five to six years as a firefighter alongside his daughter and son-in-law. His eight-year-old grandson also seems eager to sign up.

“You still gotta wait until you’re 16,” is what he tells him.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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