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Answering the call to destiny

"The opportunity to come back to where it all started just made it seem almost like destiny." For Dan Heney, becoming the new deputy fire chief for the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) meant returning to where it all began in 1993.
BRFA fire chief Jay Melvin (left) welcomed deputy fire chief Dan Heney (right) to the department earlier this week.

"The opportunity to come back to where it all started just made it seem almost like destiny."

For Dan Heney, becoming the new deputy fire chief for the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) meant returning to where it all began in 1993.

"It was really tough to overlook the linkages that were there. When you find a position that's really good, when you come across a leader like Jay Melvin that projects himself the way he does, and tie that into the opportunity to come back to your hometown, it's kind of a no-brainer," detailed the newest addition to the department.

After 25-plus years of firefighting, Heney came full circle earlier this week when he started as deputy fire chief for the BRFA.

Heney, who grew up in Bonnyville, said he fell into his career path accidentally in 1993, after moving back to the area a year or so prior.

"I was looking for something to do in the community… I bounced around from various community groups that I tried, and nothing seemed to fill that hole. Someone suggested that the fire department might be looking for people, so I went and met with the fire chief,” he exclaimed, adding he hasn't looked back since.

Six years of battling blazes gave Heney the experience he needed to move on and accept a position as an instructor at a fire school in Vermilion. In 2006, he became deputy chief of training and prevention in Prince Albert, SK, before he joined the Calgary Fire Department in 2012, where he ran the training division.

It was all of his experience, education, and passion that had Melvin, fire chief for the BRFA, giving Heney the title of deputy.

He said Heney's background "really fit the position here in terms of where we want to move the authority moving forward."

"The bonus is his vested interest in the community. Having someone who’s from here, who has ties to the community, that has family still in the community, is a big thing when you’re looking for any new employee,” Melvin added.

Out of the 25 firefighters from across the country that applied, the BRFA dwindled it down to six. It didn't take long after meeting Heney for Melvin to realize he was the one they wanted for the job.

“When I met Dan and we did the interview, we knew right away that he was what we needed here for us to move the organization forward,” expressed Melvin. “He presented himself as what we expected. He’s very professional, he knows the role he needs to be in and how important that is to the community."

It's the ability to work with the public that has kept Heney pulling on his uniform every day.

“You’re completely engaged in the community. The fire service is a very tight-knit community. There are only 120,000 firefighters in the whole country, and 78 per cent of them are volunteers, so the links to the community are endless,” he emphasized. “Everybody loves firefighters, the big trucks, the big chrome, and the opportunity to give back to the community just never ends."

Although it will take some time for Heney to get a lay of the land after so many years, he can't wait to work with the area he has always called home.

It's not only the town that has grown in the two decades since Heney has lived in Bonnyville - the BRFA itself has come a long way, Melvin noted.

“It’s a real good fit for the organization, and we’re not what he left, which is probably a big challenge for him. The fire authority has grown so much over the last 20 years... The expectations from the community now are so much higher, that this is a business, and we need to run our emergency services like a business and ensure that we deliver the best product."

Heney agreed.

“From a professional standpoint, this is a very unique opportunity, and there aren’t that many where you get the ability to help lead an organization that’s involved in fire, ambulance, and dispatch, as well as the industrial firefighting pieces that are involved. There aren’t that many organizations that are that widespread. They tend to be more focused, either strictly municipal firefighting or a small volunteer department that may do some ambulance response.”

For Melvin, having someone who can "adapt and react to constantly changing conditions from day-to-day," from both a business and operational standpoint was vital, especially with all of the work that has yet to come.

“We’ve got a lot of major projects moving forward, from fire halls to fire trucks, from next generation 911 to new infrastructure. There’s going to be lots of interesting things the authority is going to be able to do in the next one to two years, and then three to five. We have lots planned," said Melvin.

Since starting July 3, Heney has been busy learning the ropes of his new role and remembering the town that he knew so well.

“I’m looking forward to doing my best to support the men and women on the front lines of the fire service and ambulance service with the authority."

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