Nanaimo fire department in ‘good hands’

Ron Lambert, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, is retiring from a 44-year career in firefighting. His last day on the job is this Friday (Feb. 14).  - CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin
Ron Lambert, Nanaimo Fire Rescue chief, is retiring from a 44-year career in firefighting. His last day on the job is this Friday (Feb. 14).
— image credit: CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo’s fire rescue service will be burning money if it doesn’t change to meet the needs of the community, says outgoing fire chief Ron Lambert.

“I think it’s really an issue of, are we utilizing the resources   – the resources that we are paying for ... in the most effective way?” asked Lambert, who warns without changes over-resourced and overly responsive departments will eventually hurt fire services and burn money.

In a far-reaching discussion about his retirement with the News Bulletin, Lambert talked about his controversial proposal for fire services reform to his accomplishments over the past 44 years in the fire service and why he’s stepping away.

Leaving his position “certainly comes with mixed emotions,” said Lambert, who’ll pack up his office Friday (Feb. 14). “I guess every dog has their day.”

Lambert took over as Nanaimo’s fire chief in 2000, with an aim to bring a business approach to fire service. Under his leadership, Nanaimo Fire Rescue developed a new data collection system and its first accredited training academy, a program that sells seats to other Island fire departments.

His most controversial move was to suggest a fire services reform, which Lambert believes would provide an affordable but high level of service to the community. Instead of having four-man engines in areas that traditionally saw ‘extremely low’ numbers of structure fires, for example, there would only be two.

The move would flatline costs for staffing  at $12 million by 2024, compared to the $15-$16 million the city now expects to hit.

The plan was unpopular with the union and and likely “too innovative,” according to Lambert, who says he hopes as the community moves foward changes will happen little by little to create an affordable and effective service.

One change could come with the Hammond Bay fire hall, which will be designed “much smaller” than traditional buildings and with a community room.

Lambert would have liked to see the changes through, but said it’s his time to retire, in part because of the city’s recent reorganization.

While he’s not critical of the department changes and staff cuts, he believes in improving services and processes before looking at where the bureaucracy can be reduced.

Lambert plans to do fire rescue consultation in his retirement. He says he leaves the city in good hands with Craig Richardson, the new fire chief.

“I am confident in the team we built here,” he said.

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