Capt. Frank Gale has seen a lot since joining the Colwood Fire Department as a volunteer in 1975. From dangerous fires to gruesome car accidents, there aren’t many scenarios that he hasn’t had to handle, but he never let those potentially traumatic experiences bother him, which is a big part of the reason he’s been so successful in the industry.
Now approaching 60, Gale has made the decision to hang up his firefighter’s helmet for good and Oct. 31 will be his last day on the job.
“My body’s telling me firefighting’s for the young guys now,” he said, chuckling.
It’s been a long, but productive journey for the man who is well known around the fire hall for his driving and mechanical skills, as well as his calm, quiet personality.
After many years as a volunteer, Gale took a full-time job on the crew in 1996, putting his previous experience as a heavy duty mechanic to good use.
Former Colwood chief Russ Cameron, who joined the department a few years after Gale, was later responsible for bringing Gale into the department on a full-time basis.
“As a firefighter working alongside him, he was dependable and somebody you could always trust with your back,” Cameron said, adding that his work within the hall was just as impressive. “His ability to troubleshoot problems with fire vehicles and stuff like that were just tremendous. He kept our fleet going … he was the Mr. Fix It.”
Cameron continued, recalling how Gale went to work every day, rarely taking a day off.
“He loved coming to work every day,” he said.
“He’s one of the fixtures and institutions that’s always been here,” said Assistant Chief John Cassidy.
Long before taking full-time work with the department, Gale learned a lot about carpentry, electrical and plumbing from his brother, and his dad, who was a carpenter and all-around handyman. “Everybody says I’m pretty fussy when I do stuff,” Gale admitted.
His mechanical magnum opus might just be the rebuild he did on an old rescue truck, which Cassidy said was re-done “from the ground up.” Cassidy added “his [mechanical] skills and life experiences have made the department a better place.”
An underrated job within the department is that of the driver, no easy task considering the balance that’s required between needing to arrive on scene quickly, but safely. Gale was often named the department’s favourite driver by his peers for his efficiency and reliability.
Quiet by nature, Gale has grown increasingly confident over the course of his tenure within the department. He recalled how scared he used to be when speaking in front of a group.
“I was terrified of doing that before, but as I got older and became an officer, you’re directing and everything else,” he said.
As the elder statesman within the department, Gale has played an important role in teaching the department’s younger personnel, especially when it comes to the mechanical side of things. “I like to teach pumping. That’s probably my favourite, being able to teach the guys how to use the equipment around here.”
The action and the adrenaline of firefighting were always enticing for Gale, but it’s the camaraderie that he’ll really miss when he retires, and for that reason he still plans to spend plenty of time around the hall.
“We have a good group of guys … After I retire I still plan on coming out for coffee during the day and socializing a little bit with the guys,” he said.
Gale is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including a one-year-old grandson, but evidently his presence around the Colwood Fire Hall will remain even after his retirement.
His biggest challenge might be to resist the temptation to pick up a wrench and get right back to work.