Exner’s first official day as fire chief is July 1.

New Maple Ridge fire chief to keep ‘rolling’

Howard Exner takes over for Dane Spence.

As one chief departs, another arrives to continue the effort to keep Maple Ridge and its residents safe.

Howard Exner officially takes over as chief of Maple Ridge Fire and Rescue as of today.

And all he wants to do now is keep the forward momentum set by his predecessors, Peter Grootendorst and Dane Spence.

“Under the direction of Grootendorst and during that same time, Chief Spence, we’ve done a lot really good work and a lot of big projects that are important to the city have been accomplished,” Exner said.

Grootendorst retired as one of two fire chiefs three years ago after serving 30 years, then accepted a job at the Justice Institute of B.C.

Dane Spence’s send-off as retiring chief took place on Monday at Fire Hall No. 1. He had also been with the department for 30 years.

“My first day of retirement is July 1, Canada Day. I look forward to seeing the Canadian flag flying from Tower 1 and enjoying the day with my family,” Spence said in a May release.

“I am very proud of the team we have assembled. Serving our community and answering the calls for help has been an honour and a privilege.”

Mayor Nicole Read added that Spence’s leadership “has been essential as our community has transitioned from the volunteer-operating model to the composite model we have today. He has been a true leader and a strong voice on our management team.”

Over the course of a decade, the fire department moved from an all-volunteer force to a composite model, with 53 full-time firefighters and 62 paid-on call firefighters. That long-term plan was completed in 2015.

Exner said that two immediate priorities for now are completing the purchase of two new fire trucks and reviewing the Community Wildfire Protection plan, “to make sure it’s still relevant for today.”

Protecting against wildfires has become a more high-profile concern following the forest fires that devastated Fort McMurray, Alta. this spring.

“It goes to disaster planning, in general. I don’t think the city can do everything by itself. There’s just no way that the city can be prepared to meet every disaster of every type,” Exner said.

Instead, there have to be plans in place to draw in assistance where needed. That’s what the federal and provincial governments are for, he added.

There is also the matter of building Fire Hall No. 4 on 112th Avenue in the eastern part of Maple Ridge.

Because of the cost, about $6 million, it’s been a controversial topic.

“It’s still in the work plan. We’re hoping to bring that forward this year for council’s consideration,” Exner added.

He started with the fire department as a volunteer in 1991 and in 1998 became chief training officer, then became deputy fire chief in 2013.

Thanks to Spence’s previous work, “there are really not a lot of hot burning issues right now,” Exner said.

Spence “has always been the ‘Steady Eddy’ kind of guy. He’s had a good lay of the land. He’s built the fire department in lots of different ways and prepared the fire department to move forward.”

Exner said Spence can now look back and say, “It’s time for me to go and it’s OK and I can hand it off to the next group of people.”

The new chief said some routine tasks need doing. There are some minor issues in the work plan and training is required to fill some vacancies. But mostly he just wants to keep things rolling.

“That what I see my direction is right now, that we maintain, that we continue to operate in the usual manner that we’ve had, that we all enjoy here.”


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