After 28 years with St. Clements station, Dennis Ertel wraps it up due to township’s restructuring plans
“The toughest part of our job, living in a small town, is when you do the medical part of it,” says Dennis Ertel, outgoing district fire chief in St. Clements. “It’s either somebody you know, or it’s someone related to you somehow.
Over his 28 years in the fire department, Dennis Ertel has been a fixture of the St. Clements community. Now he’s wrapping up an eight-year tenure as district chief, part of a restructuring plan that will eliminate six jobs from the fire service. While Ertel isn’t retiring from public service, his departure marks the end of an era.
“He should be commended for his years of service,” said Wellesley Township fire chief Andrew Lillico. “Today, turnover of staff is more frequent because the generation is a little bit younger – anywhere from the low-20s are the new stuff coming into the field, and their family lives change, their work environment changes. Members who stay 28 years are less and less.”
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Firefighting was “kind of in the genes” for Ertel. He joined the fire service as a firefighter in 1986, the same job as his late father, Claude Ertel.“It was altogether different back then,” he says of his dad’s time. “First of all, they never had pagers, they never knew what they were going to until they got there, and the equipment we’ve got now is three times better.”
Even with the advancements, “Any major fire, by just reading the smoke and reading how the flames were turning, that’s where you learn the most.”
After paying his dues as a firefighter, Ertel worked his way up the ladder. In 1991 he became a captain, and then an assistant district chief in 2005, and finally district chief in 2006. Over the years, he has watched the community grow. “Where we’re sitting right now was a gravel pit,” he says in his St. Clements home.
During his time, he watched and led the modernization of the department, notes Lillico. “He has been instrumental in working with us to change our tiered response protocol to make our responses more effective for the citizens. He was also instrumental in developing the specification for the Township of Wellesley/St. Clements pumper in 2006.”
“We were getting called out for every band-aid type of thing,” Ertel remembers. “It’s nice to go out and help people but the money starts adding up.” With the tiered response system, “We [prioritized] what was critical, and that’s what we would respond to, instead of going to somebody with a bloody nose.
“The Ontario Fire Marshal set up a guide that if the ambulance could be on scene in 10 minutes, they wouldn’t send us. If it takes the ambulance more than 10 minutes, then we would be tiered.”
At 57, Ertel isn’t quite ready to retire: he continues to patrol roads for winter operations for the Region of Waterloo. But has he at least planned a party for his last day at the St. Clements station on Friday?
“Not right now,” he laughs. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”
“He’s an excellent incident commander, and a lot of years in fire service, which he should be very proud of,” says Lillico.