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Fire hall chief retires after 38 great years of service

Bob Kleinmann may have retired as Bonnyville's volunteer fire hall chief, but to his co-volunteers in the fire department he will continue to be remembered as a calming influence and an experienced asset for the station and community.
Bob Kleinmann retired as the Bonnyville Fire Hall Chief in June after 38 years of service to the community.
Bob Kleinmann retired as the Bonnyville Fire Hall Chief in June after 38 years of service to the community.

Bob Kleinmann may have retired as Bonnyville's volunteer fire hall chief, but to his co-volunteers in the fire department he will continue to be remembered as a calming influence and an experienced asset for the station and community.

“Commitment is the word that you need because the fire bell goes when it goes. It has no time schedule itself, if it's three o'clock in the morning or five o'clock in the afternoon. If you're going to be a firefighter, you need to commit as much as you can to answering the call at anytime,” Kleinmann says.

Kleinmann started volunteering with the fire department in 1972. He says joining the department was a chance for him to give back to the community, which welcomed him after he moved here from Wales. He says the best part of volunteering with the fire department was the camaraderie and the different people he got to work with.

He was working as a teacher in London in 1968 when he heard about a teaching shortage in Western Canada and decided to move. He taught physical education and social studies at Notre Dame High School, and later taught work experience off campus and was a guidance counselor.

Kleinmann's co-volunteers in the Bonnyville Fire Department say he was a dedicated fire hall chief who offered mentorship and guidance when needed. Kleinmann explains that his calmness under fire related to years of experience.

“After a while it's not as new, and it's not as scary. You can control your adrenaline rush a little better, and you've been there before.”

As fire hall chief for the last decade, Kleinmann was responsible for liaising between volunteers and the Regional Fire Authority. But Kleinmann went above the call of duty to help new members adjust to the demands of the job.

“He was always there for the guys. He was kind of that steady, calming influence that all organizations need,” says Bonnyville Regional Fire Association fire chief Brian McEvoy. He adds that the term ‘godfather' comes to mind to describe Kleinmann.

“He was one of the people you could always count on,” McEvoy says, adding that Kleinmann wouldn't hesitate to stay at a call for 10 to 12 hours if needed to put out a fire.

McEvoy notes that Kleinmann started giving back to the community as soon as he arrived. “Anytime something needed to be done in the community he was the first one to step and say, ‘okay lets get it done'.”

Co-volunteers of Kleinmann say he especially stepped up to the plate during the drought years at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. Kleinmann put in long hours and responded to multiple calls a day.

“It was non-stop action in those days,” Steve Wojcik says of the drought years. He says Kleinmann helped to keep the department focused. “He was there to keep us on the straight and narrow.” Wojcik worked with Kleinmann for 22 years and took over the position of fire hall chief this month.

“Basically you just keep going as best you can,” Kleinmann says, referring to the fact that relief during the drought years wasn't available.

Ed Primeau worked with Kleinmann since 1978. He describes Kleinmann as “the glue that held everything together.” When there was something to be done, Kleinmann would be the first in line to do it. Despite the importance of his role as station chief, he never let it go to his head. Primeau adds that he was like a father figure to a lot of the younger guys.

“You never worried about anything when Bob was around. Stuff happened the way it was supposed to,” Primeau says.

He says the biggest lesson he's taken from Kleinmann is to lead by example. “To me he was a great leader. The community should be proud to have that type of person in their community.”

“He was always the guy in the same old pose with his head down low underneath the smoke peering in through the open door just to monitor the guys inside,” says James Sharun, deputy chief at the Bonnyville Fire Station. Sharun worked with Kleinmann for 12 years. He says Kleinmann was the guy always looking out for everyone.

“He never asked anyone to do anything that he wasn't willing to do himself. Bob always led by example,” he says. “To put in 38 years with an organization that volunteers the way we do where it's on-call 24/7, 365 days a year, that says a lot when the average person doesn't make it past seven years.”

After retiring from teaching in 2004, Kleinmann kept busy in the community volunteering with the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association and more recently the Alberta Winter Games.

Now that he's retired from the fire department, Kleinmann and his wife Gisele, who also recently retired, plan to spend more time visiting their children Christopher, Ginette, and Becky, and their six grandchildren. But that won't stop him from staying on as a volunteer at the hospital and continuing to support the community in under-recognized but helpful ways.