Bri­gade on the Verge

His­toric Har­bour Grace fire depart­ment sees change in lead­er­ship

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

The his­toric Har­bour Grace vol­un­teer fire bri­gade has a new per­son at the helm. And for the first time since late 2005, it’s a man.

Vet­eran fire­fighter Ray Verge donned the fire chief ’s hat on Jan. 1, tak­ing over from So­nia Wil­liams, who made his­tory as this prov­ince’s firstever fe­male fire chief.

Verge was un­op­posed, and was unan­i­mously sup­ported by the roughly 40 other mem­bers of the bri­gade.

“I’m proud to say I’m serv­ing as the 23rd chief,” Verge said last week.

In keep­ing with tra­di­tion, Verge was elected for a one-year term. But be­gin­ning in 2012, a new two-year term will be im­ple­mented.

Verge takes over lead­er­ship of ar­guably the old­est vol­un­teer fire bri­gade in the prov­ince, but its mem­ber­ship re­mains vi­brant and strong. He said know­ing he will be sur­rounded by so much knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence — in­clud­ing sev­eral for­mer chiefs — made the de­ci­sion to step for­ward much eas­ier.

And the time was right for him to make the com­mit­ment. He’s now work­ing full-time as a para­medic, his young son is in full-day school, and his wife, an ac­tive mem­ber of the ladies’ aux­il­iary, is fully sup­port­ive.

“I’ve al­ways had a good feel­ing in giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity,” Verge said.

Verge cred­its his ex­pe­ri­ence with the fire bri­gade for help­ing get his ca­reer in the med­i­cal field on track, and is en­thu­si­as­tic about his new role.

He also had high praise for his pre­de­ces­sor, de­scrib­ing Wil­liams as very ded­i­cated and pas­sion­ate about fire­fight­ing.

“ No other fire chief put the time into it like she did,” said Verge. “She’ll cer­tainly be a tough act to fol­low, and I cer­tainly look for­ward to lean­ing on her for ad­vice from time to time.”

Verge promised to ap­proach the job with an open mind and a pos­i­tive out­look, and vowed to con­tinue the ef­fort to re­place the bri­gade’s two ag­ing pumper trucks. “It’s our top chal­lenge,” he said. Rep­u­ta­tion of lead­er­ship

Har­bour Grace Mayor Don Coombs said Wil­liams did a “tremen­dous job,” and de­scribed her as a “gold star chief.”

“She broke new ground as the first fe­male fire chief and she de­serves our thanks,” Coombs stated.

He’s con­fi­dent that Verge will up­hold the rep­u­ta­tion of solid lead­er­ship.

“ He’ll do a good job. It’s a good bri­gade and we’re proud of it,” he said.

As for Wil­liams, the de­ci­sion to step down as chief was deeply per­sonal. Her fa­ther, Fred­er­ick Wil­liams, has been bat­tling can­cer, and she’s very in­volved in his care. She pre­vi­ously lost her mother to can­cer.

Wil­liams said it was a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion.

“I took great pride in that po­si­tion, and re­spect the very long his­tory of the bri­gade,” Wil­liams said. “ Be­ing chief was a very en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Wil­liams did not hes­i­tate when asked her most dif­fi­cult moment as chief. Her first call af­ter as­sum­ing the post on Jan. 1, 2006 was a se­ri­ous mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent near the town, which re­sulted in the death of a young per­son from Har­bour Grace.

Her proud­est moment came in the sum­mer of 2008, when the depart­ment helped res­cue a teenager from Car­bon­ear who fell over a 35-me­tre cliff near Bris­tol’s Hope.

And what about be­ing the firstever fe­male fire chief?

“I just took it one day at a time. I never thought about it that way,” she said.

Wil­liams, who has served 16 years with the bri­gade, will stay on as a fire­fighter.

So­nia Wil­liams of Har­bour Grace, the first-ever fe­male fire chief in this prov­ince, has stepped aside.

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