Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton (left) and councillor Cynthia Day pause for a photo with newly named Fire Chief John Cassidy at the beginning of council’s Jan. 23 meeting.

Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton (left) and councillor Cynthia Day pause for a photo with newly named Fire Chief John Cassidy at the beginning of council’s Jan. 23 meeting.

Colwood officially names new chief for fire department

Acting Chief John Cassidy takes the helm from retired Kerry Smith

It’s not often that Colwood Fire Chief John Cassidy has trouble with public speaking, but he admits there was a “hitch” in his voice when he was officially recognized as the city’s new chief.

With members of the public and a large gathering of his fire crew looking on at Monday night’s council meeting, Cassidy spoke about what an honour it was for him to be able to serve in the department’s top position.

“When you talk about something that’s very passionate to you, sometimes you choke up a little,” he later told the Gazette.

Cassidy takes over for retiring Chief Kerry Smith and had been the department’s acting chief since the fall before moving into the permanent position.

It marks the culmination of a steady rise within the department for the Victoria native, who joined in 1999 as a fire inspection officer.

Prior to that Cassidy spent time as both a volunteer and career firefighter in Whistler, starting in 1991. His 25 years of experience has allowed him to work under the guidance of a variety of chiefs and observe many different management styles.

He describes himself as an inclusive leader who values the input of others and prides himself on being decisive.

“I believe that one of the worst things you can do in life, especially in the fire service, is be indecisive. So if something comes up or a decision has to be made, I would like input and I would like perspective and then I’ll make a decision and that’s it. Let’s go,” he said.

Cassidy met with chief administrative officer Ian Howat numerous times over the last few months, with Howat eventually telling him he had the job.

“I think his vision of the city kind of matches my vision of what the fire department can be as part of the growth and protection of the city,” Cassidy said.

The experience he had in Whistler during a time of exponential growth for the municipality should prepare him well for the growth to come in Colwood. He has already overseen a change in protocol that had been discussed under previous regimes, but never implemented.

In the past, Colwood would send its rescue vehicle out on first responder or first aid calls. This became problematic as the department began to deal with more and more double and triple headers – multiple calls coming in at the same time – as the department only has one rescue vehicle in its fleet.

Now the department has equipped both of its fire engines with full first-aid gear, including airway management tools and defibrillators, and will run an engine out to medical calls in order to keep its lone rescue truck available in the event of a second call.

“It’s just a re-evaluation of how you provide service to your community,” Cassidy noted.

The rapid growth in Whistler taught him that the Colwood department must begin readying itself now for an increased number of calls and incidents as the City’s population prepares to spike.

“There are so many projects that are just ready to take off in the (city) and my job is to try and (set up) the fire department … in a way that it can be proactive to the growth within the community without playing catch up.”

“When we play catch up, bad things may happen.”