Maple Ridge is losing one of its fire chiefs.
Chief Peter Grootendorst gave notice last week that he will be leaving the department after 30 years in Maple Ridge.
The 56-year-old is not retiring, but moving on to a position at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, which is responsible for all firefighter training in the province. He will be the director of the Fire and Safety Division, working out of an office in New Westminster, and will coordinate the delivery of all fire training in B.C.
It is a full-time position, beginning Oct. 1.
Grootendorst first came to the Maple Ridge department as a volunteer firefighter. His full-time job then was as a landscaper. He said the fire department was a close group, with strong social connections.
“I really enjoyed my time as a volunteer,” he said.
Based on the work he did as a volunteer, Grootendorst was hired as a career firefighter, becoming the district of Maple Ridge’s first full-time training officer, hired for the position in 1989.
He was hired by Chief Pat Brooks.
In 1998, he was named fire chief, and he and fellow chief Dane Spence have overseen “huge changes” in the department. It transitioned from a department with paid on-call firefighters to what they call a composite model, with a core of full-time career firefighters, complemented by paid-on call “volunteers.”
Smaller communities have volunteers with perhaps a full-time chief, while cities like Vancouver hire career firefighters and don’t have paid on-call members. Maple Ridge has both.
This summer the district reviewed its fire services staffing, and Grootendorst told councillors that when six new firefighters are hired over the next two years, the department will have 54 full-time members, who will be backed up by 60-65 on-call firefighters.
“The department has grown along with the community, and the community is well served with the model it has,” said Grootendorst.
“It’s guaranteed a level of response, but you also have the ability to call in the paid on-call guys.”
Grootendorst said he is not sure whether his position will be replaced, or whether Spence will become the sole chief.
A succession plan is in the works, and the outgoing chief will have input.
The move could result in a savings to taxpayers. The two chief system will be scrutinized as Grootendorst moves on. Both he and Spence have salaries of $152,000 a year.
Maple Ridge also has four assistant fire chiefs.
Mayor Ernie Daykin said the two-chief arrangement is one that he inherited as mayor, and it will be reviewed with Grootendorst leaving.
“He and Dane have been a great team,” said the mayor, but added that the district may move to a single chief.
“That’s probably the more traditional model – where you’ve got a chief and a couple of deputy chiefs,” said Daykin. “That’s a discussion we’re going to have in the coming weeks.”
Daykin has appreciated working with Grootendorst.
“I’m sad and disappointed to see Peter go, but also excited for him,” said Daykin. “He’s hard working, and he loves and is dedicated to the community. I found him willing to listen to both sides of a discussion, and he’s committed and dedicated to his crews.”
Daykin noted Maple Ridge has enjoyed a great working relationship with the Justice Institute, which operates training facilities in Maple Ridge at 13500 – 256th Street.
In the past, the district has given the institute fire trucks that have been decommissioned, but which still have usefulness as training vehicles. In exchange, the JI returns equivalent value of training hours for firefighters. It is a relationship he hopes will only strengthen with Maple Ridge’s former chief heading up training for that organization.
“It’s difficult to leave after all this time. It’s like a family,” said Grootendorst. “But I am excited about the challenge at the JI.”