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In the service for 40 years

Current Lac La Biche County regional fire chief celebrates four decades in the flame game
john kokotilo 40
John Kokotilo has enjoyed his 40 years in the firefighting services and emergency management. Image: Rob McKinley

Lac La Biche County council fired up the applause last week, recognizing the municipality’s regional fire chief for his 40 years in the fire service.

John Kokotilo, the manager of protective services and the regional fire chief has been with the municipality since 2014, but began his firefighting career in 1980 with the City of Edmonton. He stayed with the Edmonton Fire Department until 2010.

“He tried retirement, but that didn’t work,” said Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi during a standing ovation of applause in council chambers on July 28 — the exact day he started with the Edmonton Fire Department 40 years before.

Creating a firefighter training company, Kokotilo then helped prepare novice firefighters for roles as municipal firefighters. In 2014 he was asked to fill in as the county’s fire chief after the abrupt departure of the previous chief. It was supposed to be a short stint, said Kokotilo, as the CAO and council were recruiting for a new full-time position.

“I asked how long it would be and they said three months, more or less. The funny thing is that I”m still here.”

The full-time position was awarded to Kokotilo because of his expertise and dedication, said Moghrabi. Those same qualities have kept the fire chief a hot commodity.

The 2016 Fort McMurray fire and evacuation put Kokotilo in charge of the regional evacuation and emergency planning. He was also called on by the BC government to help with forest fires, and earlier this year he was called to Fort McMurray to help that community’s emergency operations deal with flooding. He was back in the thick of the action again last month in the Lac La Biche region as flood waters threatened lives, infrastructure and the environment.

“He has had the well-being of thousands in his hands … let’s think about the number of people that John has protected, families he has kept together and sacrifices he has made over the past 40 years. He deserves real praise,” said Moghrabi. “They say the best measure of someone is how they react when things are bad; John has shown steady, courageous leadership during them most pressing emergencies.”

A team effort

Kokotilo has also helped to recruit, train and equip municipal and regional firefighters to carry on that leadership and skill.

“He has helped to give them all the training and equipment they need to be one of the best municipal fire crews in Alberta,” said the mayor, explaining that no matter if it’s structure fires, car crashes, general fire safety education and awareness, the number one priority continues to be the safety of all citizens. “… we know we are in good hands.”

Kokotilo says that the excellent firefighters, paired with a responsive community and local leadership has helped to make his job easier and enjoyable.

“The community. This community — how well it bonds together, works together — I’m very, very proud to be in this position, working with the county, the staff and the public. I’ve enjoyed myself and continue to enjoy myself, and I give what I have to ensure that our county remains safe, and that we progress in all ways.”