Calgary Herald

Retiring chief leaving city

Supporters hail Bruce Burrell’s ‘beautiful legacy’


Fire Chief Bruce Burrell’s moustache couldn’t conceal his smile Wednesday as he listened to a Conference Board of Canada analyst say the flood response he led was amazing — a model for cities to study to prepare for future disasters.

Burrell’s smile was concealing something else: He announced to his fire department the following morning that by month’s end he will leave his job to return home to Nova Scotia.

It might be impossible for a civil servant to retire on a higher note than Burrell has after nine years as fire chief.

He was widely hailed as a steely leader in what’s supposed to be a fire chief’s secondary job — emergency director during 13 days of Calgary’s state of local emergency.

He commanded the battalion of staff in the emergency operations centre during the flood. He was the effort’s public spokespers­on in multiple press briefings each day. He caught catnaps in darkened rooms when there were lulls in action.

“Bruce certainly did work long hours, yet you could tell that he was well trained and ready to perform what was needed to be done for our city,” said Stuart Dalgleish, the city general manager who oversees the fire department.

Burrell isn’t giving media interviews this week, after making his big announceme­nt to staff Thursday by email.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the chief and his wife have “some family concerns back in Halifax,” and that he was surprised by the chief’s departure.

“I’m sure that he’s going to try to live a quiet life, but he is going to be in high demand helping others do as good a job (as he did) with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency last year,” Nenshi said in an interview Thursday.

“He’s left a beautiful legacy here, in terms of building CEMA, in terms of building the fire department’s capacity to manage itself,” said Nenshi. “I’m confident that we’ll be good without him, but I’ll miss him a lot.”

Burrell wasn’t universall­y loved in his nine years as fire chief. Two years ago, in the middle of a yearslong contract dispute, the Calgary Firefighte­rs Associatio­n publicly censured him at an internatio­nal union gathering.

Council and senior city administra­tors kept faith in the chief, and quietly settled with the union earlier this year.

“I said at the time and I’ll say it again that we always had confidence in Bruce’s ability to run that department, and I think the men and women in the department really do have confidence in his ability to run it as well,” Nenshi said.

Dalgleish praises Burrell for modernizin­g the fire department and setting strong benchmarks. But crews have long struggled to meet the fire response time targets, especially as the city has rapidly expanded outward without being able to build new fire halls apace.

Burrell became Calgary fire chief a month after the 2005 floods, then was tasked with developing today’s emergency agency.

But he arrived familiar with disaster. He served as deputy fire chief in Halifax, where he was a pivotal figure in the city’s handling of hurricane Juan in 2003.

 ?? Calgary Herald/Files ?? Fire Chief Bruce Burrell has announced he is leaving Calgary.
Calgary Herald/Files Fire Chief Bruce Burrell has announced he is leaving Calgary.

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