The Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) stands as a pillar of safety and service in the community and surrounding area. Deputy Chief Garth Rabel, with more than four decades in his chosen profession, shares insights into the department’s growth, capabilities, and commitment to safeguarding the lives and property of a rapidly growing community.
“Our best as firefighters is when we can help someone experiencing their worst day,” says Rabel.
Since its inception in 1960, the AFD has evolved significantly from their original firehall location across the street from the newly refurbished Water Tower on First Avenue to three modern and strategically located stations. King Heights #88 station was built in 2011 and sits in the southeast quadrant, Chinook Winds Fire Headquarters opened in 2012 and is located in the southwest quadrant, while in 2016 Veterans #87 station replaced the old Main Street station and was relocated to the northwest quadrant. The growth trajectory continues, with plans for a new station in the northeast Highland Park Industrial.
Airdrie’s first investment of about $8,000 for an initial fire pumper apparatus from the Saskatoon Fire Equipment Co. has ballooned to more than $1 million for a piece of their current purpose-built firefighting fleet. Their nine-piece apparatus inventory includes a tower truck, ladder truck, multiple fire engines, rescue truck, water tender and two wildland firefighting bush buggies.
With 82 uniformed and civilian staff, the department operates 24 hours, 365 days a year. Firefighters serve on four platoons (ALPHA, BRAVO, CHARLIE and DELTA). Rabel highlighted that the team consists of caring and competent men and women, dedicated to serving their community. This talented group is trained and proficient in fire suppression, technical rescue, medical co-response and the delivery of fire and injury prevention education.
Rabel emphasizes the team maintains relevant training sessions inhouse and regularly hones skills, both in firefighting and medical response. In 2022, the generous support of local resident Tracy Osborne assisted with the development of the Osborne Medical Simulation Lab at Chinook Winds Fire Headquarters. Through the use of realistic training mannequins and associated medical adjuncts, firefighters train to practically enhance individual and team medical skills and proficiencies.
Beyond firefighting, the department actively engages with the community through various public education programs. Rabel emphasized the importance of AFD initiatives such as the “Home Safety Program,” which sees firefighters test residential smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, “Remember When” a senior’s fire/ injury prevention program and their annual Fire Prevention Week campaign which is held in October.
Collaboration is another important strategy of the AFD. The department maintains mutual agreements with neighbouring fire services, including Rocky View County. This collaborative approach enhances the availability of fire personnel, apparatus and equipment to effectively manage complex emergency incidents in their service areas.
“There are no boundaries when you’re providing timely, effective and caring support to anyone in the community,” says Rabel.
For more information about the Airdrie Fire Department, you can visit www.airdrie.ca
Rickey-Lee DeVries: a beacon of strength and diversity in Airdrie’s fire department
Rickey-Lee DeVries followed the spark of curiosity in her mid-20s to pursue a career in firefighting.
The born-and-raised Calgarian’s path to her current role wasn’t a conventional one. She pursued a marketing diploma, then a personal training diploma. It was while being a personal trainer at an oil sands camp in northern Alberta that she first saw firefighting as an opportunity when invited to check out the site firehall.
“I was like, ‘This is really awesome,’” recalls DeVries, adding they invited her to train with them. “Then I became a volunteer, and then I kind of fell in love with it.”
After seven years as a personal trainer, she transitioned to being the fourth full-time female firefighter with the AFD in October 2022. Her commitment to learning and growth continues to fuel her motivation.
“I love the physicality and camaraderie of the job,” says DeVries, 34. “My motivation is to continually learn and improve, serving the community of Airdrie to the best of my abilities.”
As a new member of the department, DeVries’ role has been in the hydrant seat, a position that offers hands-on experience in a variety of scenarios.
“Being a female firefighter is about being part of a team and being the best firefighter I can be,” says DeVries.
In the hall and on call, she is another member of the team, which includes playful banter from her fellow rookie, Trevor Remington, who joked “I didn’t know we were wearing makeup today,” before a photo shoot, or the two racing to see who can answer the phone first when it rings, even though it was her day off.
Rabel assisted in the recruitment process that saw Ricky-Lee become a proud member of the department.
“When new people join the team and share their expertise and experiences it brings new perspective,” says Rabel. “Our department appreciates positive growth and is much richer for being as diverse as we are.”
In her pursuit of excellence, DeVries not only enriches her own story but also paves the way for women to see themselves in a firefighting uniform. “If you can see it, you can believe it,” says Rabel.
DeVries and Remington were two of the four participants in the 2023 AFD’s Rooftop Campout for Muscular Dystrophy. The team raised $23,000 while braving as cold as -30C conditions over 72 hours outside in February on the roof of the former Toad n’ Turtle restaurant.
Remington also pursued a marketing diploma after high school but soon realized he wouldn’t complete his degree at Mount Royal College (now University).
“A family friend offered me a ride along at a fire department,” recalls Remington. “That was my last day I attended Mount Royal College, and I started my pursuit to become a firefighter at 20 years old.”
That moment steered him to embrace a vocation fueled by service. From then until his recruitment at 34 years old in October 2022, Remington worked as a residential support worker with adults with mental disabilities and as a volunteer firefighter since he was 25.
For Remington, Airdrie was the ultimate destination. “It’s an innovative department in all aspects of the job and maintains a progressive scoop in medical first response,” he says. Becoming a father three years ago transformed his perspective.
“Certain calls become more challenging, and you can relate more with families,” says Remington. “The most rewarding part of the job is sitting down with your crew for a coffee after a call knowing you did everything you could.”
Currently, Remington fills the seat of hydrant and encourages friends and family to pursue his career of choice.
“It’s so enticing when you see the type of lifestyle and the type of bigger picture you can be a part of,” Remington shares between calls to medical emergencies. “It’s a job where you can constantly get better in every aspect, and the learning never stops. My motivation is to try and get a little better every day.”