Sunday, July 21, 2024

Last Call to Dispatch, Firefighter Retires After 48 Years

Commander Rolland (Rollie) Wilkie of the Meaford and Saugeen Shores Firefighting Departments has placed one final call to dispatch to officially mark the end of his 48 years as a volunteer firefighter. As of Friday, July 28, he is no longer on call, he no longer wears a pager on his hip, and he need no longer jump every time he hears a siren, but chances are he will.

With 48 years of first-hand experience with trauma and destruction, Rollie’s reaction to a siren will be more troubled than that of other citizens. Added to the mix are the strong affinity and bond with fellow firefighters and the fact that two of his sons are volunteer firefighters in the area.

Since joining the Port Elgin fire department as a young local boy 48 years ago, Rollie has been called out to 8,000 fires, some short, some as long as 23 hours. He wore his pager at this hip for 410,000 hours over the years and in the days following his retirement on July 28, he finds himself still reaching for it.

Like the pager at his hip, there are images – some positive, some not – that Rollie expects will always be with him. Over the years, firefighters have benefited from the counselling offered to them to help handle the trauma and tragedies they deal with as firefighters.

Counselling is good,” Wilkie said in an interview with The Independent. “But there are things that stay in your head, images that you never get rid of. It’s tough in a small communities where you likely know the victims, you may know that person in a burning house or being extracted from an auto wreck. Counselling is good, but you still remember the traumatic stuff.”

Likewise, training and up-to-date equipment are invaluable tools available to firefighters but at a cost. Training means time away from family and firefighting equipment is a major capital expense to the communities.

MPP Rick Byers (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) presented on behalf of the provincial government a certificate of appreciation to Rollie on July 28 saying: “Thank you, sir, for your extraordinary service. You clearly epitomize what service means. Service is such an important part of who we are. Let me thank you for the role you have played in our lives and in making our community a safer place.”

In a notice to all members of the Meaford Fire Department on July 5, Fire Chief Courtney Allen wrote: “Commander Wilkie has served our community with unwavering dedication, professionalism, and a passion for fire safety that has left an indelible mark on our department and the lives of those he has touched. As we bid him farewell, let us reflect on the countless lives he has saved, the fires he has extinguished, and the bonds he has forged with his fellow firefighters. Commander Wilkie, may your well-deserved retirement be filled with joy, relaxation, and cherished moments with your loved ones.”

The challenge now for Wilkie will be to focus on his newfound free time. He and his wife Shannon Lee moved to Port Elgin in April of this year to be closer to their son Taylor and his young family. Rollie and Shannon Lee continue to work in Meaford, Rollie at Knights Home Hardware and Shannon Lee at the Hear Well Be Well clinic. Two of their four sons are firefighters -Taylor, a volunteer firefighter for Tiverton and Bruce Power, and Chris, a firefighter with the Inter Township Fire Department out of Owen Sound. Their son Christopher lives in Moosonee where his fiancé Alexandra is a volunteer firefighter. Their son Quinlan lives in Ottawa.

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