Nova Scotia

Retired firefighters in Cape Breton come together to give back to community

Retired firefighters in Cape Breton have found a way to stay connected with and involved in their communities by volunteering.

Retirees volunteer with both fire department and community groups

The Sydney Retired Firefighters Association allows former firefighters to contribute to their communities even after they hang up their uniforms. (Christian Roach/CBC)

Retired firefighters in Cape Breton have formed a unique organization to stay connected with their old jobs and feel useful volunteering in their community.

The Sydney Retired Firefighters Association was created in 2020. People who have long since retired can stay in the loop with current firefighter activities.

The group gets together to volunteer with community groups. They've volunteered with Meals on Wheels and also recently took part in a municipal cleanup.

Tom Fidgen, the group's founder, retired from firefighting 25 years ago. The 82-year-old spent his adult life in the fire department.

Tom Fidgen founded the volunteer group in 2020. (Christian Roach/CBC)

He said he can't do some of the physical work he used to do, but he still wanted to help the community and feel a connection to his firefighting family. 

"Usually, when you're retired, that's the end of it — you're finished your job … but as a firefighter, you're always a firefighter," he said.

The 30-member association has helped the fire department and various organizations. For the past two years, they've watched over the Salvation Army's donation kettles at Christmas.

Ron Rowe is the former Salvation Army Red Kettle co-ordinator in Sydney. (Christian Roach/CBC)

"I would think the firefighter's job is service to the community, and now that they're retired this is one way they can help and give back to the community again, which they're used to doing anyway," said Ron Rowe, former Red Kettle co-ordinator in Sydney.

"If everybody was like the firefighters, that would be super for me," he added.

People involved in creating the group say that it is the only one of its kind on the Island and it would be great to have more.

"It's needed everywhere," said Gilbert MacIntyre, deputy chief of the Sydney Fire Department.

He said that "being a firefighter is more than just the job" and it is hard when a retired firefighter doesn't feel like part of the family. He said the association allows the retired firefighters to come together and also allows them to connect with today's firefighters.

Gilbert MacIntyre is deputy chief of the Sydney Fire Department. (Christian Roach/CBC)

Fidgen plans to work with other firefighters any way he can.

"We have a lot of knowledge. Most of us have up to 30 years experience in the fire department. To let that knowledge go to waste ... is a sin, really."

Fidgen says if any groups need volunteers they should reach out to the association.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Roach is a reporter based in Cape Breton. He's interested in everything about the island.

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