New Brunswick

New year, new fire chief for Saint John: Rob Nichol on settling into the role

Rob Nichol says it is going to take some time to get used to being called 'chief.' The veteran firefighter took over the title earlier this year when former chief Kevin Clifford retired.

Former chief Kevin Clifford retired at the end of January

A firefighter in full turnout gear shouting
Rob Nichol took over as chief of the Saint John fire department earlier this year. He worked on the fire trucks for 17 years before moving into the administrative side of things. (Submitted by Rob Nichol)

Rob Nichol says it is going to take some time to get used to being called 'chief.'

"It still sounds odd to tell you the truth," said the former deputy chief — now chief — of the Saint John fire department. 

Former chief Kevin Clifford hung up his badge earlier this year, with Nichol set to take over.

Nichol said he started his career on the fire trucks, working his way up the ranks and learning the different roles for 17 years before taking the leap into the administrative side of the fire service. 

Before joining the department, Nichol did a degree in biology and psychology, and he said the psychology side of things has played a role in his work.

"It really is about the people," said Nichol. 

A smiling man in a fire uniform in front of a blue background
Nichol says the city recently finished a fire service review which brought up some opportunities related to how to move the department forward. (Submitted by Rob Nichol)

He said the city recently finished a fire service review which brought up some opportunities on how to move the department forward.

He said while skill and equipment are important to making sure firefighters can do their jobs, fire prevention and education are huge components as well.

"We want to prevent fires or prevent incidents from ever occurring," he said, noting the importance of community engagement.

"Sometimes it can be simple fire tips that are helpful or reaching out to newcomers who are new to even seeing uniforms."

Nichol also said there's a particular challenge with fire service in Saint John because it's an industrial city, which comes with specific hazards. He used the recent American Iron and Metal fire as an example.

Smoke billowing out of a large pile of metal, fire truck pouring liquid onto it
Nichol says one challenge with fire service in Saint John is that it is an industrial city, which comes with a set of hazards, citing the American Iron and Metal fire as an example. (Submitted by Ed Moyer)

He said there's a lot of pre-planning that goes into understanding what the hazards are, what kind of equipment is required to respond to those hazards and building relationships with other responding agencies, such as police and EMS, or industries.

Nichol said he also has plans to renew the department's mission, vision and value statement, since he said it's been years since that was done.

He said one issue with the current statement is that it's too long.

"You know, mission, vision and value, I think it needs to be catchy and I think everybody in the organization needs to know what those are," said Nichol.

"It really sets the parameters of where we're going."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Rudderham is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick. She grew up in Cape Breton, N.S., and moved to Fredericton in 2018. You can send story tips to hannah.rudderham@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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