Retired Deputy Fire Chief Ken Thiemann (left) sits at the executive table with Fire Chief Brad Boddez and his fellow Morinville Firefighter colleagues after Thiemann’s retirement barbecue earlier this fall.
– Stephen Dafoe Photo
by Stephen Dafoe
Deputy Fire Chief Ken Thiemann is all smiles as he sits around a simple wooden table in a bay of the Morinville Fire Department. Joining him are five of his fellow firefighters, men who have served with him for many years. Though each of the volunteers have their own stories to tell, it is the stories told over the old table that truly unites them.
A relic of the early days of the Morinville Fire Department, the table and a little red bench that some of the members sit on as they reminisce are sacred relics to the men gathered to say farewell to a colleague as he retires after more than 33 years with the Department.
Thiemann didn’t always have a place at that old table. Certainly not in 1981 when he joined the Morinville Fire Department. Back then, he and his fellow rookies would sit atop a fire truck while the leaders of the department held court at the table down below.
“It’s been great. There’s none like it,” Thiemann said of his three-decade career as a volunteer firefighter. “This was a tough decision. I’ve had something to do with pretty much every truck in this hall except Unit 1. I’ve designed them and built them and that kind of stuff. Lots of mentors came through the door and helped us build what we’ve got today. They built me the way I am today. There was a lot of good people.”
Though Deputy Chief Thiemann played a hand in helping design Ladder 4, Rescue 5, and even the Fire Chief’s pick-up truck, he remembers a day when the department did not always have the quantity and quality of gear it presently enjoys.
“It was a lot smaller then,” he says of the early 1980s when he became a firefighter. “We were in Sal’s [Famous] place. That used to be the old fire hall. We could get two trucks in there. the third one was jammed up tight against the washroom.”
Though the physical environment was tighter, the atmosphere was a little less restrictive. “It was a different time. It was looser. We were a family. We all hung out together. The whole outfit did. Everyone that was on the crew all got together. We had parties. We had births, deaths, whatever. we were all pretty tight. It was a nice tight group.”
The Deputy Fire Chief said the family atmosphere prevails today, but is not exactly the same as it was in years gone by. “Bigger is not always better,” he said. “You lose some of that. A lot of these guys are the age I was when I started. Not saying this isn’t a good crew. These guys are taking the trade and doing the job. Back in the day we would leave our families on the side of the road and go on a call, and they’d find their way home.”
Though the dedication to the job they are charged with doing is the same, Thiemann says he finds the current breed of men and women who have joined the department to be a little more formal than in his day. “When they come up to you, they call you Chief,” he said. “Back in the day we used to use our names all the time. Now its Chief or Captain.”
But whether new breed or old breed, it is the firefighters and the camaraderie between them that populates Thiemann’s fondest memories, including many nights gathered around the old wooden table. Thiemann said the table and bench represent the Department’s past, a past that is respected and revered by both long-time and more recent members.
“When I joined the only guys that sat at this table was the executive,” he recalled. “That was four Captains, the Chief and the Deputy Chief. “They sat at this table. We sat up on top of the trucks. They pretty much did their business and we [nodded in agreement]. But those guys that sat around this table – they built this place. Don Found, Ron Cust, Paul Krauskopf. Bud [Rockwell] was an intricate part of it. Those guys built the place.”
Those leaders advanced the Department to where it is today through a series of discussions and planning sessions around the same table that was there in more humble beginnings. “This is where the planning was done. This is where we first decided we were going to get bunker gear. Before that it was coat and long boots. The hall was planned on this table, sitting on that bench. This thing goes back a long way and seen a lot of changes. There was talk at one time of do we really need it [the table]. Well that lasted about 30 seconds and we are never going to run out of room for this table. It just means too much to too many people.”
But just as the table means a great deal to firefighters past and present, so too does the legacy left behind by the retiring Deputy Chief. Fire Chief Brad Boddez said Thiemann’s departure leaves a huge hole in the Morinville Fire Department. “But he’s passed down some great experiences and a wealth of knowledge,” Boddez said. “So we will be able to move forward for sure and move into the next stage of our journey.”
Fire Investigator Ed Pomerleau said he has nothing but found memories of working with Thiemann. “He was always helpful, alway jovial, and he’s a great guy,” Pomerleau said. “I wish him well.”
They are sentiments shared by senior member Bud Rockwell. “He joined 10 years after I did and we both worked our way up the ranks,” Rockwell recalled. We’re not going to replace him. There’s nobody here that can replace him.”
Thiemann, who recently turned 60, said he is too young to retire just yet. Though his work will continue to keep him busy, he said he is looking forward to the time he will gain from leaving the Department he has been a part of for 33 years. “I just wanted to move on,” he said. “It was time for me to do something else. I’ve got a Jeep in my garage that I’m not doing anything with.”
Above right: Deputy Fire Chief Ken Thiemann sits at the executive table in front of Ladder 4.