Chief, what in your opinion is the purpose of the Honour Guard?
I guess ultimately it’s, we’re a body of people who represent everything about the Calgary Fire Department. Whether it’s the Chief at some functions, right the way through to the frontline members of the organisation who are out there every day, serving the customer, often putting their lives in harm’s way. So I think it’s very much a representative role.
Why did you join the Honour Guard?
(1:01) That’s a really good question. It was back, very soon after I joined the job in 1992, in fact within a few months of that, we lost Morley James. I remember talking with some of the members of the Honour Guard at that time, at the funeral , and they were very encouraging to the fact that, given I had a bit of a Fire Service background prior to being with Calgary, that it’s maybe something I should think of, in terms of joining the Guard. So that was really the time where, the first kind of contact I made with the Guard was. Very early in my career, just a few months into my career in fact. That was the start of it I guess, within a year or so, I recall, I was a member of the Guard.
How has participation in the Honour Guard affected you?
That’s a really good question, I mean there’s a broad range of emotions you experience as a member of the Honour Guard. There’s the taking part in the Stampede Parade. I remember being part of the Guard through the World Police and Fire Games in the 1990’s. So some really neat events, opening ceremonies at significant conferences in the City of Calgary, those kinds of things. And then of course there’s the more sombre events. The funerals, the memorials, those kinds of events that we do, that take you to the other end of the emotional scale. So, the joy and happiness you see walking the parade route, which was always one of my favourite experiences with the Guard, being very close to the community at a pretty happy time and a pretty significant time for the City, right through to the most desperate times in people’s lives when they’ve lost a loved one. Particularly when those haven’t been the losses that have come at the end of life, they’ve come with younger members of the department. The whole broad range of emotions I’d have to say. Through all of that though, it’s probably been a string of satisfaction doing that, whether it’s a difficult function that you’re at, through to the happiest functions that you’re at. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling, or it always has been for me, in terms of feeling that we’re making a difference.
Can you tell me about a specific event or ceremony that holds special meaning for you?
Yes, I thought about this question a lot, and I don’t know that I could even single one out. Certainly, some of the events during the World Police/Fire Games were pretty cool. I remember one that comes to mind there is, we did an event at Spruce Meadows, and I believe it was the Opening Ceremony, but I could be wrong, could have been the Closing Ceremonies, but as I recall Chief Morris and the Chief of Police at that time, I’m not sure who it was, they came in on the Police Helicopter. So, a pretty spectacular setting as it is, Spruce Meadows, and a pretty exciting time for the Fire Department and the City, pretty neat event to be a part of. When I think about, certainly the majority of what I’ve done with Guard has been the funerals. Celebrations of life, memorials, whatever you want to call those services, those services to recognise the end of people’s lives. I don’t know that there’s any that would really jump out at me, but they’re all very special. I always felt very honoured, and continue to in my new role working with the Honour Guard at the same ceremonies. I’ve always felt tremendously honoured and privileged to be part of this, to be part of the ceremony where we’re saying farewell to a member, often a retired member, to their family, trying to make it a very special and appropriate occasion for them. Not many people get to do that stuff, and I think it’s very evident from the families, their comments, and often you get a card afterwards saying thank you to the Honour Guard, thank you to the administration, to the Pipe Band, and all the others who’ve been involved in those ceremonies. It’s pretty evident it’s very meaningful to them. There are so many of the families that I’ve dealt with are just amazed at the effort we put into those services, collectively. From having the Fire Truck out at the front, to the Honour Guard involvement, to the Piper, to the Chief being there, those kinds of things. Lots of people realise that there’s not that many workplaces now where you’re remembered after you retire, to that degree. Where there’s that kind of presence at the end of your life. So, just as we’re there at the beginning of your Fire Service career, graduation, we’re also there at the end of your life, if that’s the will of the family of course.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
There’s another one, you know, in that last question I talked a bit about graduation. There’s another one of those events which is tremendously happy, a happy event. It’s fun being part of those, to balance out the emotional span of the activities, of what we do. I guess the other part is, it’s a pretty, particularly when you’re new to the Honour Guard, pretty nerve racking thing at times, to think ‘what are the commands, what am I doing’. And of course, we’ve always trained, through the years we’ve got better at doing more training. There’s a lot of pressure on the members of the Honour Guard to get it right in front of an audience, there’s no second chance, whether you’re doing the Cap and Flag ceremony at a funeral, or whether you’re doing a graduation, those kind of things, it’s a one shot deal. Whether it’s the memorial at Tribute Plaza, whether it’s one of the memorials we travel for. In the past I’ve been so lucky to travel, to Ottawa to be part of the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Memorial, and then to the International Association of Firefighters memorial in Colorado Springs. Just again, a tremendous honour. I can’t say enough about how I’ve been blessed to have had this opportunity to be a member of the Guard, and what an honour and privilege that has been, to represent the men and women of the Calgary Fire Department, and to a degree the City of Calgary. It’s just been tremendous. And I still get to do the odd one when it works now. I’m often on the other side of the equation, so it doesn’t always work. But I still try and make myself available when I can, to do this, because my plan certainly was to do this until I retire, and maybe even beyond, and that hasn’t changed. I just don’t get to be as available as I’d like to be right now, often because I’m at the same ceremony in a different role. But that’s life.