Meet Richmond Hill’s New Fire Chief, Bryan Burbidge

With more than 19 years of experience as a high-ranking officer and 32 years of experience in the fire service, it’s safe to say that Chief Burbidge knows how to put out a fire.

Bryan Burbidge, Richmond Hill, Ont.’s fire chief, describes the life-and-death duty of firefighters this way: “There’s not many professions where you would go in to help somebody, and they would hand you their child.” If you’ve ever been in a dangerous situation and finally see the arrival of a firefighter, police officer or other first responder, you’ll know that there’s no greater feeling of relief.

In many cases, while most people run away from danger, firefighters run toward it. As a leader in his community and recently appointed fire chief of Richmond Hill Fire and Emergency Services, Chief Burbidge is the man responsible for those men and women. “I am the person who looks after people who look after people.”

Q: What does a day in your life look like?
A: The fires that I fight right now, they’re probably a little different — probably not the ones you see on TV. I have more of an administrative role and, so, in my position right now, I don’t get to see all the exciting things that the firefighters do. I hear about them and I support them in everything that they do, but I don’t necessarily see the action. My kids joke that the most danger I face right now is a paper cut. I laugh at that, but I sincerely respect the job that our staff does, so my danger, as far as a paper cut, doesn’t compare to the types of dangers they face. I am the person who looks after people who look after people.

Q: What has been one of your most touching experiences working in the fire department?
A: There have been quite a few. To narrow it down, I’ve had to assist friends at an accident where the friend didn’t make it; he passed away. Children involved in incidents like that, those are life changing; those are the bad ones. The good ones are where you’ve gone in and made a difference in somebody’s life, whether it be a medical call, or a fire call, or a situation with a car accident where they’re in danger, and you get them out of the vehicle. There have been bad calls, but, equally, there have been some good ones, too.

Q: What would you say to a young person whose dream is to become a fire chief one day?
A: I would say, “Work with the people whom you serve and then serve the people you work with.”

Q: What is one piece of advice you could give people that could help reduce the most common fire incidents in a home?
A: Check smoke alarms to make sure they’re working. Watch what you heat. Watch what you’re cooking — don’t leave cooking unattended. Plan ways out of your home, so make sure you’re ahead of that, rather than scrambling at the time that you hear the alarm.

Q: What’s the definition of happiness to you?
A: It’s work-life balance. I’ve been married to my wife, Andrea, for 27 years. I have three wonderful children — Cody, Emma and Brett — and I think if I can do a good job at work and go home and have fun at home with family and friends, I think that’s the definition of happiness. Knowing that I’ve done something during the day at work and then going home and celebrating that or enjoying the time with family and friends.

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Estelle Zentil

Estelle Zentil