Wayne Price was working right up until his last day.
The long time Cranbrook fire chief had been reviewing wildfire mitigation strategies and just finished delivering a presentation to staff in the upper level of the fire hall building before sitting down for a luncheon send-off.
Normally reserved for the tight-knit brotherhood of retiring firefighting personnel, his colleagues had organized a surprise visit from his mother, helping her up the stairs to the upper level of the fire hall.
“I think she’s probably the only non-firefighter that’s been present at a luncheon like that, so for the guys to do that for me, it was pretty special,” said Price.
After 33 years of varying roles in the fire service, Price decided to call it a career with his final day as Director of Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services last Friday.
Born and raised in Cranbrook, Price left a career as a pipe fitter working on sprinkler systems to join the fire department in 1985, after being accepted on his third application.
Price began his career as a firefighter for the first six years before shifting to a new opening with the provincial government, which had just opened a Fire Commissioners Office branch in Cranbrook.
It was an opportunity and a challenge he couldn’t resist, Price said.
“We started working with them on and off on different projects and I saw a really different side to the fire service with the Fire Commissioners Office,” said Price. “Back in the day when I was a firefighter, we pretty much did firefighting and inspections; there was no first responder or anything like that. So it was somewhat limited.
“With the fire commissioners office, it was a whole different career. They did fire service training, so they go out and provide training to the fire service. They were recognized as the experts in fire prevention for the province.”
His role with the Fire Commissioners Office expanded his responsibilities to 65 fire departments and local governments across the East and West Kootenay regions.
In the early 1990s, Price was tasked with investigating a ship fire near Esquimalt that was the largest dollar-value loss in B.C. history at the time.
Price said he led a team of roughly 15 personnel from different agencies that investigated the incident, which turned out to be sparked from welding.
Price remained in Cranbrook until 2000, when he applied for a regional position with the Fire Commissioners Office in Kamloops, overseeing the B.C. Interior.
It was there where he had a direct hand in the provincial government’s response to the 2003 wildfire season that — at the time — was the worst in B.C. history.
Price was tasked with developing a provincial structural fire department to help address and mitigate structures that were being threatened by wildfires.
“It was the first time they were seeing structure loss to that extent,” Price said.
Tasked alongside a dozen technical writers, a plan was drafted that laid the foundation for what is currently used today.
Price, a third-generation resident of the Key City, had always longed to return to the area.
In 2005, Price successfully bid for the fire chief position, who had announced his intent to retire.
“This was a great opportunity to come home,” he said. “I applied, I was successful and the rest is history. It felt really, really good coming home.”
Right away, he faced challenges, such as updating old communications equipment and making sure his staff had all their required certifications.
With an extremely tight budget, Price worked with a local service provider who recognized the value of reliable communications gear and made a handshake deal to be paid back through instalments over the next six years.
“I’ve had numerous situations like that happen over time, so what can you say?” said Price. “It’s just been tremendous support from the community and I have tremendous respect for the business community in this town.”
However, over time, Fire and Emergency Services evolved into a collaborative, competent and professional organization, which is what Price says he is most proud of.
“We’ve created an organizational culture and work environment where everybody enjoys coming to work,” said Price. “It’s an extremely positive environment. I look at our people; to me they’re some of the nicest, most caring people I’ve ever worked with and I think that makes a difference in our service.
His fire fighter colleagues with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1253 lauded Price’s leadership with the department.
Noting that Price always led from the front, Gregory Green — the Local 1253 president — said the fire chief stood with his crew in danger countless times to save lives and property, and leaves a legacy of integrity, devotion and service.
“He helped shape the brotherhood that defines the department today,” wrote Green, on the IAFF Local 1253 Facebook page. “He ushered in a new era of department safety, higher level training, personal growth, and respect in the workplace.
“Chief Price understood that only through camaraderie, respect for one another and unconditional commitment to our City could we create those vital conditions that would cause individuals to be utterly selfless in their approach to duty.
“Best of all, Chief Price led by example. He attended to the needs of his staff directly, with compassion, friendship and most importantly professionalism. All along, he never wavered in patiently delivering professional leadership.”
Though Price heads off into retirement, he says he’s confident in the future and in the staff that are with the department.
“…I’m the happiest and feel I’m the luckiest fire chief in Canada,” Price said. “I truly do. It’s been tremendous.”