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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Fire Chief Rick Arnel set to retire

- he is being touted as a mentor and friend-

by Sylene Argent

Local Journalism Initiative




When Essex Fire Chief Rick Arnel first put on the firefighting gear at just 18-years-of age on August 10, 19


75, he was trying to appease his uncle, a Firefighter in Tilbury, who insisted

he give this career a try.


At that time, “I didn’t want anything to do with it, but he talked me into it,” Arnel said,

fondly reflecting on that defining moment that would set him on a path to earn a lot of

credentials in the world of firefighting. “Here I am 48-years later.”


The Fire Chief has decided to retire, with his official last day being September 29.


What hooked Arnel on becoming a firefighter was simply the camaraderie with fellow firefighters, and forming those friendships is something he still values. Arnel remained with the Chatham-Kent Fire Department, until he took over the position of Fire Chief for Essex Fire & Rescue on January 1, 2015. His experience includes a ten-year stint with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, where he excelled to the position of Executive Vice President.

“That opened so many different avenues, it was amazing,” Arnel said. “I got to meet the

Premier, the Solicitor General, the Attorney General. I have been in their offices.”


One of the defining accomplishments of


his career was also being able to get on a Technical Committee, where he helped to ensure firefighters had to become trained to serve their communities.


“We had no guidelines before; it was all over the place. Today, there are guidelines,

which is a wonderful thing,” Arnel said. “It was one of the things we were proud we got

through and did.”


He noted that Essex’s Firefighters, Officers, and District Chiefs are continuously undergoing

training. Currently, 16 Firefighters are trained to the standard of Officer throughout the service. There is currently an Officer recruitment at Station 1, and five of its firefighters are already trained to that standard.


All firefighters in Essex Fire & Rescue are certified, but two who do not plan to carry on in their position as of July 1, 2026, which will be required through the Province’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act. Certification allows Essex Fire & Rescue to be a full-service fire department, including interior and exterior structural firefighting, for the Town of Essex.


“That’s how far ahead Essex Fire is, compared to a lot of other departments in the County and the Province. We are leaps and bounds ahead of other people,” Arnel said, noting this ambitious training program goes back to him being on that Technical Committee and seeing what was coming.


“There is a lot of value in being on a committee. Out of it, I met hundreds of wonderful people across the country and still talk to a handful of them once a week on a conference call...the fire service is all about trading ideas and thoughts and programs and guidelines to make the service better, not just one fire department better. We are very good at sharing.”


In speaking of Essex Fire & Rescue, he said the department is pulling in the same direction,

and that includes personnel from all three stations.


“We are all training together,” Arnel said, noting that is important because when sitting

as part of the administrative body for the local fire service, time and energy is exhausted

trying to guide everyone back into the same direction. “Now, they are there. It is such a better atmosphere.


“At this point in my career, to be able to come to work, put a smile on my face, and enjoy

coming to work; it is wonderful. It


is the people here,” he said.


One of the aspects Arnel expressed to firefighters when he first joined Essex Fire & Rescue

is that they were going to work towards taking care of each other. And, since then, a Peer Support team – which is currently comprised of around 12-people from members of all three stations – has been established.


“They look out for each other, which is what we need,” he said. “They do see some not nice

things at times, and if they are looking out for each other, we get through those tough spots.”


Next year, Essex Fire will need to recruit 12 individuals to join the service.


He is also proud of the Ice and Water Rescue Team, which was established with a five-year

plan with support from Essex Council.


Thanks to continuous support from all terms of Essex Council Arnel has served, he said Essex Fire has bunker gear that is second to none, in addition, its fleet is getting newer and newer, including a new tandem axle rear mount aerial platform truck, which will be house at Station 2 when it arrives in the coming months.


The previous Term of Essex Council a


pproved this purchase in May of 2022 at over $1.5M.

This truck is replacing two aerial trucks that have reached their end-of-life cycle. The previous Fire Master Plan indicated Essex Fire could operate with one, centrally-located aerial truck.


In addition, previous Terms of Essex Council have approved two new fire stations, and Harrow’s new building is hopefully on the way. A potential location for this possibility will be investigated through the new Fire Master Plan, which recently started with consulting firm, Loomex Group.


Recently, the Fire Chief met with representatives with Loomex Group, and went through all of Essex Fire & Rescue’s stats, calls, training, and fire prevention education programs for the new Fire Master Plan document.

Essex Council, Arnel said, has recognized the Firefighters doing the job and their needs for equipment. “Kudos to the Councils I have dealt with for providing us the capital money to be able to ensure the longevity of this fire service. He hopes that support continues.


Arnel believes public education for prevention, and code enforcement, needs to be more of a focus, to ensure the buildings and homes in the community are safe. “If we can prevent fires, that is what we should be doing.”


As the community grows, a consideration might be requiring sprinkler systems in homes. He understands that is a cost, but it is a prevention tactic, and Essex Fire will be on scene to ensure a fire is out. As the Town grows, thought has to be put into figuring out the best solution in ensuring that growth doesn’t surpass the fire service.


Ed Lepain, District Chief for Station 2 with Essex Fire & Rescue, commented Arnel’s leadership is hard to find in the present day.


“He puts trust in his people to succeed and do what needs to be done. He doesn’t micromanage, but is always willing to help if you ask.”


Arnel, Lepain added, is a mentor and has been a friend in troubled times.


“He truly cares about every member of Essex Fire and their families. He will truly be missed

by everyone.”


With moving onto retirement, Arnel has faith in the other two parts of the administration team

for Essex Fire, consisting of Deputy Chief Jason Pillon and Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Jacey Brockman. He said succession training has been part of their regular duties. “This team is ready to move forward in the event they need to move forward. I am confident in their abilities to lead this fire department into the future.”


Arnel said he will miss being a part of that trio. “We are a pretty tight team,” he said. “We’ve worked very well together. They have done everything I have asked and more.

“I just want to thank everyone who was here and helped me over the last eight-and-a-half years, Arnel said. “It has been a journey...we took the journey together and I am hoping I left this department in somewhat better shape than I found it. It is all I can hope for, that I did some good things that have moved the department forward.”

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