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Firefighter hangs up his boots after 36 years in St. Albert

Fort McMurray, Slave Lake wildfires most memorable in long career
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St. Albert Fire platoon chief Dan Prefontaine, centre, was given a fond farewell last week as he retired from a 36-year career as a firefighter.

A St. Albert firefighter retired last week after 36 years serving the community and a 44-year career fighting fires.

Platoon chief Dan Prefontaine retired on July 31. The veteran firefighter started his fire career 44 years earlier in Legal as a volunteer firefighter, at the age of 17. Prefontaine loved the excitement of the job and that he was able to get excused from his classes at school to go fight fires.

“It was kind of neat at the time because I was still at school. In those days, we just had an alarm in the village, a siren, and when that siren went, there was a fire,” Prefontaine recalled.

“I got permission from the principal to go fight fires and all the other kids would go, ‘Oh, you lucky guy.' "

After his experience volunteering in Legal, Prefontaine decided to make a career out of firefighting. He stayed in Legal for eight years until he was 25 and then made the jump over to St. Albert Fire Services. For the first 23 or 24 years of his time in St. Albert, Prefontaine served as both an EMT and firefighter in the city’s integrated emergency response unit.

“At the start of the shift, whether it's a night shift or a day shift, you never know what's going to come your way. How many jobs are there out there that when you go to work you don't really know what's going to come your way? So that's what I liked about it,” Prefontaine said.

“It was like a sense of adventure.”

Another thing that kept him around so long is the sense of family in St. Albert Fire Services.

“There’s the family life with the guys and girls ... You get to know the people, they talk about their families, you eat together,” Prefontaine said.

“It's just like having another family away from home because you do so many things together.”

Prefontaine said some of the most memorable fires he tackled during his time with St. Albert Fire Services was when he travelled to Fort McMurray and Slave Lake to fight the massive wildfires that devastated those municipalities.

The fire veteran said over the years the biggest change in the industry he has noticed is the training firefighters get.

When Prefontaine first started fighting fires, he was armed with a few courses out of the Vermillion fire school. But now firefighters have online training and a local fire training officer in St. Albert to help keep everyone up to date.

The extensive training helps, especially when the fire department is responding to a mutual aid call to help another department fight a fire and they are all able to use the same language because everyone is receiving the same training.

Along with the evolving training, Prefontaine said the equipment has improved since he started, thanks to changes in technology.

The trucks Prefontaine finished his career on have a pump that can push out triple the amount of water that his first fire truck had while he was still a teen in Legal. The trucks are also armed with new technology to help make the job easier for the firefighters.

“You can do way more things with a fire truck than what you used to be able to do,” Prefontaine said.

Fire chief Bernd Gretzinger said Prefontaine will be missed by the department.

“Dan was a fantastic employee. He put his heart and soul into St. Albert Fire Services for his entire career and he never forgot where he came from. He’s going to be missed.”

Prefontaine said he is looking forward to his retirement so he can have his own schedule and not have to work shift work anymore. He plans on doing some relaxing, travelling and keeping busy at home.

“I really enjoyed my time in St. Albert. I was able to work with a lot of fine individuals who became really good friends. And they respected me as far as I know, so what more can you ask for? It was great.”

Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.
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