Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Editor’s blog

Laura King   

Features Blogs Editor’s blog

Aug. 12, 2015, Toronto – The worst-kept secret among Ontario’s fire services is out: Jim Jessop is the new deputy chief in Toronto.

Jessop fills the spot vacated by Ron Jenkins, who left Toronto Fire Services (TFS) several weeks ago to become chief in Georgina. The Ministry of Community Safety announced Jessop’s departure this afternoon; he joins TFS Sept. 18.

Jessop, for those who may not know, was the province’s interim fire marshal, having taken over from Ted Wieclawek, who left office June 19. Actually, that may have been the worst-kept secret given that everyone also knew about Wieclawek’s departure long before it was announced. (Interestingly, the word interim disappeared from Jessop’s email signature and on official communications a few weeks ago, leading to confusion – which, as far as I can tell, was never clarified – about whether he had been given the job permanently.)

Regardless, Jessop’s move to TFS leaves a gaping hole at the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM) at a critical time.

The office has devoted myriad resources to a review of the provincial incident management system and other recommendations from the inquiry into the collapse of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake in 2012; its response to the report is due Oct. 15.

An inquest into two fatal fires – three deaths in Whitby and four in East Gwillimbury – begins in late September.

And the province is in the throes of transitioning to NFPA professional qualification standards from the Ontario curriculum – a complicated process that includes grandfathering and that no one seems to thoroughly understand. Indeed, seemingly the only person who fully grasped the province’s certification processes – Doug Goodings – left the OFMEM in the spring for the United States.

Jessop’s departure leaves Al Suleman (who is on leave) and Barney Owens (who is close to retirement age) as the OFMEM’s senior staffers – both took on new roles when Jessop’s appointment as deputy fire marshal was announced in early 2014, Suleman in prevention and risk management and Owens in emergency response.

Former assistant deputy fire marshal Shayne Mintz left the OFM two years ago, for the NFPA, and Trevor Bain, also an assistant deputy fire marshal, left the office in 2013 for the City of Greater Sudbury Fire and Paramedic Service. Nancy Macdonald-Duncan left to go to Mississauga Fire and Monique Belair moved to St. Catharines to be a deputy chief.

I’m hard pressed to come up with a list of potential fire-service candidates to become the province’s chief fire officer, particularly following the amalgamation of the OFM with emergency management in 2013. Mind you, you can’t throw a stale hotel bun in a conference room in this province without hitting someone who used to work for the OFM – Richard Boyes, executive director of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs; Cynthia Ross Tustin, chief in Essa Township; Brad Bigrigg, program manager for the OAFC’s candidate testing service; Andy Glynn, deputy chief in Oakville; Rob Browning, a former fire chief and city manager; Jamie Zimmerman, deputy chief in Mississauga; Olaf Lamerz, the deputy in East Gwillimbury, and others who’ve left over politics, salary and red tape – but I bet none of them has much interest in returning given the modest civil-service salary, the gag orders and the headaches that come with the job. Carol-Lynn Chambers, who is still with the OFMEM, has her hands full trying to resuscitate the Ontario Fire College.

Which leads me to believe that the Ministry of Community Safety may look to the policing side of emergency management for candidates – potentially a tough pill to swallow for the Ontario fire service.

Back to Jessop. He’s well known in Ontario as a fire-safety advocate, was deputy chief in London before moving to the OFMEM, and deputy in Niagara Falls for 12 years before that. There is little doubt that Jessop would have been named fire marshal after an appropriate time had passed since Wieclawek’s departure (if, in fact, he hadn’t already been), so why the move to Toronto to become a deputy for a third time?

Salary, no doubt. And potentially a shot at becoming chief of Canada’s largest fire service. Jessop is young, he has an MBA, experience in different-sized communities, is a solid speaker and has a proven track record, having led the call for mandatory sprinklers in seniors homes. It’s a big loss for the OFMEM.

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