Biggest compliment for firefighter: 'You saved my life'

Dave Thomson has retired after a long career as a volunteer firefighter in Waterford. File photo/Postmedia Network

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Dave Thomson has a vivid memory from his career as a volunteer firefighter with Fire Station No. 3 in Waterford.

“As a captain, I was in on a rescue that involved a young lad who was caught in an auger at the base of a silo,” said Thomson, who retired in June, along with Charlie Lemery. Their combined years of service totalled almost 90 years.

“Three of us were involved in the rescue and it took us 90 minutes to get him out. It was hard cutting and we had no jaws of life to help us. We had a team standing by in case he needed immediate surgery but all he suffered was a broken leg.

“Fifteen years later, I ran into him and he remembered me. He came up to me and said, ‘You saved my life’.” That, to me, is the biggest compliment someone could get for doing a job they loved because they loved doing it.”

After quitting truck driving, Thomson became a member of the Stelco Lake Erie Works fire department and, over 28 years, moved up through the ranks. He served as fire chief for 10 years, retiring from Stelco in 2006.

He continued as a volunteer firefighter in Waterford, holding many different positions in his 40-year career. Almost 30 years ago, he was promoted to captain and held that title until his retirement.

Over the years, he served as the district deputy, a role that included working as a training officer and dealing with everyday operations of the fire hall. He also served 18 years and three terms as president of the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario, which involved travelling all over the province, always on his own time.

He also served nine years as the Ontario director for the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association and five years as the association’s representative on the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

Thomson also spent six years as a member of the Provincial Selection Committee for Police and Firefighters, an organization that recognizes those who go above and beyond in their work. “It is one of the highest and most prestigious medals handed out in the province,” said Thomson.

“Nominees are highly scrutinized. The integrity of the medal is the top priority.”

Thomson said his biggest concern has always been with his firefighters. “I believe in treating them with respect, always giving them the truth and getting the answers for them. Always do what’s right for the community and your men.”

He said he is proud of the fundraising done by the Waterford station.

“We don’t spend money on ourselves. It goes to kids sports, school lunch programs — always community first. You have to do that.”

While Thomson has hung up his chief’s helmet, a Thomson remains with the local department. His youngest son, Stephen, is a volunteer firefighter and also works at Stelco fire department. Thompson’s oldest son, Darryl, also is involved with his local fire department in Northern Ontario.

Thomson credits his wife, Anne, with displaying a great deal of patience and understanding as he pursued his firefighting career.

He said he will continue to hang out at the fire hall, visiting with the volunteers, which includes one woman.

“These guys all work together. We have a lot of knowledge and a lot of years of service right here in Waterford.”