Altona Rhineland Emergency Services (ARES) is losing one of it's longest serving members to retirement.

"At the end of January, end of this month, it will be 33 years exactly," said Barry Friesen, a member of the department since February 1991. 

Friesen recalls how he became a firefighter.

"A few people that I knew and hung out with were on the department at the time. They said maybe you should consider it. I did and here I am."

Climbing the ranks in the department seemed like a natural progression.

"It was suggested to me at some point that I could take on a leadership role after I’d been there for a number of years. I started as Lieutenant and then after a number of years, went to the captain's position. I guess just about 16 years ago now, I was promoted to Deputy Chief. I don't know how it happened, but it happened quickly. Just about half my career here has been as deputy chief."

Reflecting on the past three-plus decades, Friesen says he's enjoyed his time with the department for two main reasons. 

"First, is working with the team here. That's important. We train and work together, we get to play together and get to know each other. We become a family. It is a second family here. We work hard and not always in pleasant situations, so it's good to have each other's back and know who we're working with. And working with the community, serving the community, the people around you, I guess that's why we all start, to serve. Yeah, liked working with the people here as a team and serving our community. That's been very rewarding."

Friesen can name several highlights that stand out over his career with the ARES, some which he never dreamt of in those early days.

"When you start with the department, you think - I'm going to go be a firefighter, whatever that means. You know nothing, right? But there were some great training opportunities. I was able to attend Sarnia, Ontario industrial firefighting college sponsored by Enbridge and Brandon Emergency Services College as well. I really enjoyed our time when we ran the ambulance. For the first bunch of years we ran the ambulance out of the fire hall. I've been on many ambulance calls. That's a great way to serve the community. I've landed STARS helicopters at scenes; I've gone for a helicopter ride with the army during the flood of the century in 97. That was cool."

In 2002, Friesen and retired chief James Stoesz traveled to the Big Apple.  

"We went to look at a heavy rescue [unit] that we bought; went into New York City and stood at the hole after 9/11 where the [World Trade Centre] buildings had stood. There's lots of great memories. I worked with a lot of great people, had a lot fun. But all of that isn’t impossible if you don’t have that support from home. So, thanks to Carla. She's spent lots of time alone."

In fact, Friesen admits that his wife and kids are having a harder time with him retiring than he is.

"My son was 2 years old when I started, and my daughter wasn't even born yet. They don't know anything but the fire department. Now I have grandkids that I want to give fire truck rides to.  They love fire trucks - as they should, yeah!"

Fortunately, for firefighters and their families, technological advances have made the job safer.

"The safety aspect is always number one since I've been here and way before. Fire science hasn’t changed. The way we attack fires pretty much stays the same. But technology has helped a lot. Thermal imaging cameras let us see through the heavy smoke and find where the fire is. We can go directly and safely there. Technology has helped a lot; science and technology around the foam systems help put the fires out quicker. Things are always improving. Number one is to make sure we keep our guys safe, and everybody goes home."

Once Friesen has hung up his helmet, Mark Krahn will be promoted to Deputy Chief.

"Excellent choice. Mark's a great guy, he's got lots of experience here. I think he's going to be a perfect fit. He's great with the guys, he's got a good head on his shoulders - calm under pressure. Good guy!"

Krahn, who will mark his 26th year with the department in June 2024, says Friesen's department will leave a big hole at the fire hall. But he's looking forward to the challenge.

"It's exciting. I've been able to watch Barry for 15 years now. I'm looking forward to serving the fire department in that new role."

"I guess we knew that Barry was going to be retiring come January and so, when it was first mentioned, I guess I just needed a little time to think things through and kind of how this would fit," added Krahn when asked about his reaction to the offer. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity. Barry is going to leave a huge hole and if they feel I'm the person to fill that hole, I'm willing to do it. 

Deputy fire chief is more of a "behind the scenes" administrative role which involves working closely with the fire chief and groups like the mutual aid district, gleaning information that can implemented by the fire department said Krahn. 

Friesen's service to community won't end with his firefighting days. He will be moving on to a new role as Assistant Municipal Emergency Coordinator with the town and the RM of Rhineland.

Right now, the former deputy fire chief is anticipating luxuries such as enjoying a full dinner with his family. 

"Not eyeing the weather when you go to bed and laying out the clothes, making sure that when the pager goes, we're ready to go -- find my socks!"

~With files from Candace Derksen~