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Oak Bay fire chief retires after 28 year career

Gerry Adam is hanging up the helmet
Oak Bay Fire Chief Gerry Adam

After 28 years with the Oak Bay Fire Department, with the last six as Fire Chief, Gerry Adam has come to believe people are generally good.

“People watch out for their neighbours. People call when something doesn’t seem right,” Adam said. “People take an interest in what’s happening.”

Big changes are afoot at the department as Adam retired at the end of April after 28 years of service.

Adam started his career with the Oak Bay fire department in September of 1985.

“I’ve had a perfect life. I was born in Oak Bay, I was raised in Oak Bay and I worked for Oak Bay and now I’m retiring in Oak Bay,” said Adam. “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

He describes himself as pretty green when he first started out with the department. On his first day he was immediately thrown into learning the basics, such as how to unravel and roll up a fire hose and how to work with the ladders.

When new firefighters start with the department now they arrive with extensive training and experience already behind them, sometimes a post-secondary education.

“The citizens are getting a much better bang for their buck,” Adam said. “We’re able to put (firefighters) on an engine right away. … We can utilize them, if required, right away.”

He counts his first time administering CPR among his most memorable calls. It was for a teacher he had at Oak Bay High and Adam didn’t manage to save him.

He also responded when his own father fell and broke his hip in 1996, an inury that ultimately led to his death.

“That’s life,” Adam said. “You move on.

“Having grown up and lived in Oak Bay, you do respond to people’s houses that you know.”

The worst fire Adam attended was when a photography studio on Estevan Ave. went up in flames early in his career. The fire wasn’t bad because of the building going down, it was what went down with it.

“There’s was a young girl outside, crying, because her wedding pictures were in there,” Adam said. “If it was an empty building, not an issue. … The worst thing about fire is either it kills or it destroys all the personal (belongings).”

Another loss he recalled was a house in the Uplands that caught fire at night while the owners were away. Nobody knew about the fire until it became hot enough that it blew the windows out and woke the neighbours. As fire crews arrived, Adam remembers, they could see the glow in the sky long before they saw the house.

“Those are the ones that hurt.”

Bad memories aside, Adam said he’ll remember the job best for feeling like you’re helping somebody every time you go out on a call.

“When you show up, people relax because help is here,” Adam said. “People are always happy to see us.”

In retirement the 56 year old plans to tinker around with his original career, carpentry, but only as a hobby. He also hopes to travel, perhaps to Europe, where he’s never been before.

“I’m going to miss the guys, the camaraderie, sitting around the table just laughing about stuff. I’ll miss that,” Adam said. “That’ll be the hard part.”

Even though he’s not going anywhere, Adam said he’ll miss the special relationship he has with the community as fire chief.

“We drive down the road and people wave at us. They’ll come in say, ‘thanks for being here.’ They’ll give you cookies or cake. … That’s just the warmth of the community that Oak Bay is.”

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Stepping into the role as the ninth chief on May 1 is current deputy chief Dave Cockle, who has served  26 years with the department.

“I started as a probationer here back in 1987, and I’ve worked my way through the ladder and the chain of command,” Cockle said. “Got the nod from council, so I look forward to moving that forward.”

Cockle intends to maintain and strengthen the connection the department has with the community.

“I firmly believe that this is a community department,” Cockle said. “We’re completely entrenched in the community and we want to continue that service.”