By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
Haldimand’s Fire Education Officer Ron Schweitzer has been on the job for less than a year, but he has a lifetime of experience in fire services.
Born in 1964 in Hamilton, Schweitzer followed in his brother’s footsteps to become a firefighter, then a captain, and eventually a training officer before retiring after 29 years on the force and moving to Haldimand County, where he currently lives in a house he built in Townsend.
“It helped drastically that my older brother was already doing it,” said Schweitzer on entering fire protection. “I’ve got a helper personality. I like to help people. It’s a classic job for that type of person. Firefighting is one of the most rewarding careers you can have, because you go out with your crew, who are almost family, and help people.”
It wasn’t long after moving to Haldimand that Schweitzer offered his services as a volunteer firefighter, where he has enjoyed that sense of family that he says is unique to his line of work.
“It is a far different bond than you would get in an office environment. Somewhere along the line, I need to trust you. I need to trust that you are not going to leave me and put me in harm’s way, or if I am in harm’s way, you will put yourself into harm’s way to get me out. Brotherhood, sisterhood, whatever you want to call it,” he explained. “We know who we can rely on.”
He added that the connection between co-workers goes beyond knowing they have your back at the scene. He describes how his work family comes to- gether after difficult experiences: “We’ll go back to the station and sit around and just talk.”
Even with that help, he says some memories will haunt him: “I’ll freely admit I have a closet and I pray the door never opens. I’ve seen a whole lot of things, done a lot whole lot of things that I don’t really want to revisit.”
Those experiences now inspire Schweitzer in his new role to advocate as strongly as possible and as often as he can for residents to take fire safety and prevention strategies seriously.
On some of the challenges of his new position, he noted “a steep learning curve” with engaging in social media, particularly as COVID as limited in-person interactions, as he typically does not use social media in his personal life.
One aspect he is more comfortable with is kid’s education. With visits to school once again taking place, Schweitzer will make multiple visits to Grade 1 classrooms across the county this year, and he will make sure to stop by and see some of the Grade 2 students who missed out on the educational talks last year. He said Haldimand handles children’s education differently than Hamilton, where kids could visit full- time firefighters at the station instead. Either way, he knows the program is worthwhile: “The kids sit there and hang on every word you say…. They’re too young and naïve to lie to you; you get the truth from them.”
He spoke with genuine enthusiasm about the good times and laughs he shares with young students, while also teaching them important, life-saving techniques (which he hopes they might remind their parents of as well).
Additionally, Schweitzer oversees fire extinguisher training for the county: “If an organization needs that training, I’m the one that goes out for the Fire Prevention Bureau. If retirement homes want courses on safety in their rooms, cooking safety, that’s all me.”
Schweitzer wants to offer similar educational opportunities to seasonal campsites, hoping some privately-owned campsites might be interested in bringing him in to talk to regular campers about fire safety and prevention while enjoying the outdoors.
Other places Schweitzer has visited includes farms and horse-training facilities, where he has spoken with children on-site about a wide variety of safety issues: “There’s always a reason that things happen. Kids always learn better when you give them the reason.”
“There is so much you can touch on in this role,” he said of the many different places he can share some experience and spread valuable safety techniques.
He left with some parting wisdom for those might need to hear it: “It sounds like we’re harping on this, but smoke alarms and CO alarms expire,” said Schweitzer on the most important thing people tend to overlook when it comes to fire prevention. Most smoke alarms have a lifespan of about 10 years, with CO alarms lasting only seven years.
Additionally, Schweitzer cautioned, “What you do in the daytime would be far different than what you’d do at night. In daytime you can see the smoke. You’re awake and can process it.”
He noted that at nighttime people tend to make much worse decisions when disoriented, a problem worsened by how much more rapidly a fire can spread in homes filled with modern devices: “How fire travelled 50 years ago is far different than how fire travels today…. Stuff we have in our rooms now burns so much hotter because it’s plastic.”
Haldimand is lucky to have a dedicated, passionate individual like Schweitzer out there in the community, willing to offer his services whenever and wherever they are needed. We salute him and everyone else in the Haldimand County Fire Services Depart- ment for the tireless work they do keeping our community safe for everyone.