By Jennifer Hoegg
After 50 years in Kentville, Shawn Ripley is heading west.
Ripley left his role as chief of the Kentville Volunteer Fire Department Aug. 7 and will be taking on the same job for the Yarmouth department, beginning Sept. 10. The Yarmouth post has been vacant since the spring, when the its chief retired.
“I have lived here all my life, since I was born and raised,” Ripley said in an interview with The Advertiser. “It will be a nice change to get down there and start again.”
After more than 32 years on the Kentville force, Ripley said he is “very proud” of that fire department.
“We have accomplished a lot and gone a long way,” he added. “I have had a great team of people working for me.”
Ripley listed a number of positive changes during his time with the service, including the $2.2 million fire station renovation, the purchase of new equipment and the adoption of the Joint Fire Service Agreement between the department, town and county in 2005.
His hiring as Kentville’s first, full-time, paid chief in May 2010 was another landmark. Before then, he served as full-time chief on a contract basis for two years and as volunteer chief for another 12 while working for the provincial justice department.
In Kentville, Ripley oversaw 48 active, volunteer firefighters. The numbers have dropped over the years from a high of 80 in the 1990s.
“I can remember having a waiting list,” Ripley said. “Volunteers are down everywhere. When the school left, we didn’t get the high school students… we just don’t have the industry people working in Kentville anymore.”
After a long career in a busy department, where five calls in one day is not unheard of, he said a number of major fires stand out in his memory. Blazes at Great Valley Juices in Berwick and Scotian Gold in Coldbrook in 1981, block fires in downtown Kentville’s Webster Street in 1986 and 1997, major forest fires in ’97 and ’98 and, more recently, the Centreville truck garage fire in 2007 and January’s blaze at the Pine View Inn.
Ripley said he expects to have a steady workload in Yarmouth, too, where he will oversee 12 paid staff members and 30 volunteers.
“Windsor, Kentville and Yarmouth are the busiest (fire departments) in this part of the province.”
His only regret, Ripley said, was that recommendations of a 2011 report on the department’s governance, the Walsh Report, was not adopted by the fire service. The report would have had Ripley report to a board of governors consisting of town, county and department representatives instead of the department’s board of directors.
“If they aren’t going to implement it,” Ripley said, the paid chief’s position won’t work. “There was never a problem before there was a pay cheque.”
His term has not been without controversy. In December 2010 he was suspended by the board of directors “an internal personnel issue.”
Chairman of the Joint Fire Services Committee, Bill Boyd, said he wished Ripley all the best in Yarmouth.
“I think Shawn is a great firefighter. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for him in Kentville,” Boyd said.
“Sometimes you don’t do well with one team, but you excel with another team.”
Ripley said he wished the Kentville department well.
“Hopefully, things will go good for them.”
Calls to fire department representatives were not returned before press time.