Kingston fire chief talks climate change, mental health and hopes for the city’s future

Kingston Fire and Rescue Chief Shawn Armstrong talks climate change and the evolution of firefighting at the turn of the decade. Global Kingston

Although Kingston fire Chief Shawn Armstrong has not always called the city his home, he has spent the past five years leading Kingston’s firefighters and becoming a major part of the community.

As part of Global Kingston’s 10 Questions series, we caught up with the fire chief to ask about how he sees the community taking shape around him and how firefighting has changed under his tenure.

The chief noted that in his line of work, climate change is ever-present, and he gave kudos to the city for declaring a climate emergency this past year, as well as high praise to the team he has led in Kingston over the last half-decade.

“I am noticing more frequent severe weather impacts,” Armstrong said in an emailed statement. “The climate change emergency is upon us, and we are taking action on many fronts.”

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READ MORE: Kingston first Ontario municipality to declare climate emergency

What were you doing in 2010?

I was serving as Guelph’s fire chief.

How were you hoping things might shape up in your community over the decade?

I came to Kingston in 2015, and in 2019, Kingston Fire and Rescue continues to serve professionally and with pride. I hope things continue to shape up the same way.

Click to play video: 'Now that Kingston has declared a climate emergency, what happens next?' Now that Kingston has declared a climate emergency, what happens next?
Now that Kingston has declared a climate emergency, what happens next? – Apr 3, 2019

What is the single biggest change that has happened in local firefighting over the past 10 years that has been a game-changer?

The prevalence of mental health issues. As we become more self-aware, the methods we use to encourage and promote self-care for improved resiliency are changing. Traumatic events that impact firefighters are addressed as much as possible.

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What has been your biggest win?

Serving as fire chief and leading an excellent team, providing continuous emergency service to our community and people travelling through Kingston.

What has been your biggest disappointment or miss? What did you learn from it?

Not coming to Kingston sooner. There were opportunities in the past to apply for fire chief. I learned that being grateful to our staff and having gratitude and being mindful for the moments I now have in Kingston are important and rewarding on a personal level.

What was the biggest story, from a fire chief’s point of view, of the last decade in Kingston? Why?

Climate change impacts and the Williamsville fire. Both are similar in that all city services must work effectively together to protect the community. One service can’t respond alone. I am grateful for all of our city services and the support they provide to the community each and every day.

Click to play video: 'Footage from the massive fire in Kingston’s Williamsville district' Footage from the massive fire in Kingston’s Williamsville district
Footage from the massive fire in Kingston’s Williamsville district – Dec 17, 2019

How has the makeup of Kingston changed over the last decade? How does this drive your decisions?

The Kingston community is very engaged in assisting and understanding public services for our community. We continue to have opportunities to look externally for support in providing emergency services. We recently collaborated with the Staff College at the Canadian Armed Forces to support a collective response to a municipal (simulated) emergency.

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What’s your biggest hope for local firefighting for the upcoming decade?

That all members continue to dedicate their efforts toward improving services. They look after each other so that we can continue to look after our community. It is a sacred trust.

READ MORE: Kingston Fire Rescue honours 24 at annual service awards

What is the biggest challenge facing your organization over the next decade?

Reducing the number of emergencies through education and prevention and, if not… ensuring our programs are maintained in order that we can plan for, train for and respond to a wide variety of community emergencies as Kingston grows within its boundaries.

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