St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Henry Thomson is the 2020 Firefighter of the Year.
According to St. Paul Fire Chief Trevor Kotowich, the annual award is given to a member of the department who “demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to firefighting and the department.”
The recipient leads by example and assists “in the mentoring of new and junior members. Any contribution that dramatically improves the health and safety of the members will also be considered.”
Thomson has served as a member of the volunteer fire department for 25 years and was previously recognized as firefighter of the year in 2002.
He became Deputy Chief in 2013 and has been in the role full time since 2018. As Deputy Chief, Thomson is responsible for training new and existing members of the department in a variety of skills needed not only to fight fires but also to extract people from car accidents and rescue them from other unsafe situations.
He also works closely with the departments in Mallaig, Ashmont, and Elk Point.
Thomson received the award at a private ceremony live-streamed from the St. Paul Fire Hall on Feb. 16.
During the presentation of the award, Kotowich shared some of the comments about Thomson received with the anonymous ballots submitted by the 37 volunteer members of the St. Paul Fire Department.
“He is a good teacher, and is always willing to help anyone at any time.”
“During times of uncertainty, he kept us all engaged and trained, all the while helping keep the department healthy from COVID.”
“Because of him, our training is second to none, and like the Chief says, we are the best-trained department around.”
“What he has helped accomplish with our neighbouring departments in assisting them with their training programs strengthens our region.”
Thomson said the comments were “quite humbling,” and thanked the membership for choosing him to receive the award.
“I realistically still have nothing to say other than this is an extreme honour,” said Thomson.
He said that while he has been a firefighter for a long time, the one thing he’s been doing longer has been being deeply in love with his wife Vicky, “who puts up with all the of the trials and tribulations that are involved with the fire service.”
“I’m super proud of him,” said Vicky Thomson, acknowledging that there have been numerous meals, holidays, and family outings interrupted by the call of the radio.
In a follow up interview, Thomson said the time spent learning new skills is one of the things that keeps the membership engaged.
“It’s my responsibility to make sure that training is happening. But it is definitely a group effort. I’m definitely in a hall full of trainers and it’s a team effort,” said Thomson.
He said right now the department is training on the new to them St. Paul aerial truck purchased earlier this year.
“Keeping it from tipping over is step number one,” said Thomson, noting the physics of a fire truck with a ladder are a bit different than their other trucks.
“But we’re learning how to set it up, where to place it, how to stage it, how to operate it. It can flow water out of its elevated water stream so how to get the appropriate amount of water in the right position. It’s going to be a lot of fun, we’re pretty excited about that,” said Thomson.
Once Thomson is trained on how to use the aerial truck he will be running the course for other departments in the region so everyone will have the skills to use it.
“One of the things I pride myself on is trying to be a lifelong learner. So it’s not quite as easy as when I was younger to learn new things, but I think this old dog can still learn a few new tricks and then hopefully be able to pass them along to other people as we progress and carry on,” said Thomson.