By Sheila Phibbs
The Haldimand Press
When Ron Schwietzer applied to become a volunteer with the Haldimand Fire Department in late 2018, he was not your typical ‘new recruit’ – he had just retired after 29 years as a firefighter in Hamilton.
Schwietzer grew up in Hamilton and followed in his brother’s footsteps to become a firefighter. The two worked together for a period of time and Schwietzer says, “He was my boss for a few years. We had fun together; he was District Chief and I was a Captain.” Schwietzer eventually became a training officer and trained volunteers in his final year with Hamilton.
While responding to the usual emergency calls, certain aspects of the job were particularly memorable. Schwietzer was part of the high angle rope rescue team, which performed rescues on the escarpment. He says, “To get someone to trust you enough to settle them down and get them off the escarpment; that was something.”
He also recalls the Plastimet fire, which burned for several days in July of 1997 and was visible from kilometres away. He is reflective as he says, “The job is full of risks; I’ve had some good stuff and I’ve had some bad stuff.” Schwietzer retired in June of 2018 and he explains that the time was right for him. He says, “I love the job. Being retired, I can give back to the community.”
Haldimand has been that community since 1990 when Schwietzer moved to Caledonia. He now lives in Jarvis with his wife, Trish, and their 13-year-old son, Cameron. Retirement has given him the time and becoming a volunteer firefighter seems a natural way for Schwietzer to give back. He explains, “My sister says I’ve got a helper personality. If you don’t have that, you won’t be a good first responder. At every level of emergency service, the people who don’t have that … they don’t like it.”
Needless to say, Schwietzer likes his role as a first responder and his years of experience will be an asset in the Jarvis Fire Department (JFD). With his previous certifications, he does not have to do all the training of the new recruits but he acknowledges, “I know my spot in here as a probationary firefighter. I’m learning to work with this crew and the Haldimand Fire Department. I came into this knowing I have to go through the process.” That being said, Schwietzer has shared his knowledge and experience when called upon and conducted some of the in-station training. He also has some ‘tricks of the trade’ as he says, “I know what will save time or the body.”
While Schwietzer enjoys the work of a firefighter, he finds that offering training is especially satisfying. He says, “A lot of my fulfillment was in training; you can see when the light bulb goes off.” He is currently going through the process to become an instructor at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst. It shouldn’t be surprising that Schwietzer also volunteers with minor sports, having coached with Hagersville Minor Hockey for several years and serving as President of Simcoe Minor Lacrosse. As a coach he believes “how you treat issues with kids and youth makes a huge difference as they move forward.” Making a difference is a hallmark of first responders and, whether responding to fires, accidents, or medical calls, Schwietzer describes the fire department as, “The tool box of the community.”
The main difference he sees between the full-time city departments and the part-time volunteers is that the volunteers are serving their own communities and may know the people involved in emergencies. He knows that can take its toll and appreciates the camaraderie that is shared amongst his fellow volunteers. He says, “These guys in here are fabulous; they’re a good crew. We have fun and joke around. You can see the brotherhood here.”
It is that strength across the county that ensures that Haldimand’s tool box is very good indeed.