Gahler calls it a career as a firefighter after 35 years

“It was a cornerstone of my career. It has been the most challenging, rewarding and growth-enhancing professional opportunity I have ever had. I am comfortable retiring, having had the opportunity to help lead a growing and transitioning team. You don’t get many opportunities like that in life and I’m very lucky to have had it.

CANMORE – After 35 years as a firefighter, Walter Gahler calls it a career.

The longtime Canmore Fire-Rescue fire chief finished his final shift Jan. 7, thrilled to hand over the reins to a new generation of leaders as the service is set to continue to grow and a new fire station fire department is on the horizon.

“It was a cornerstone of my career,” Gahler said of his time with Canmore Fire-Rescue. “This has been the most challenging, rewarding and growth-friendly professional opportunity I have ever had. I am comfortable retiring, having had the opportunity to help lead a growing and transitioning team. You don’t get many opportunities like that in life and I’m very lucky to have had it.

Gahler came to Canmore after more than 30 years with the Edmonton Fire and Rescue Services, where he was anticipating the end of his career until he learned that the position of fire chief was open to Canmore.

Gahler and his wife were already considering moving to Canmore. A cold call led him to apply for the best firefighter job in town, land him an interview, and start the job within six weeks.

As a small fire department with 48 employees, including eight full-time firefighters, three administrators and the rest being part-time firefighters, he said crews can “do a lot with little”.

“People who work in these environments are incredibly dedicated, willing and able to make these transitions. … You reach a point where you need more resources, and it’s part of the fire chief’s responsibility to tell that story to both the city administration and the public,” he said. .

Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert expressed his gratitude to Gahler for his commitment to this community.

“On behalf of the community, we thank you for your service – your career – but more importantly the highlight of your career for us has been the past four and a half years and we appreciate all that you have done,” the mayor said. at the December 22nd Canmore Council Committee of the Whole.

While Gahler never intended to stay in the job longer than he was, he said it was important to leave on a strong note and with new leadership ready to guide the department.

“I wanted to finish while I was still part of the solution and not becoming part of the problem. You reach a point where it becomes a bit of Groundhog Day and maybe you’re not as sharp and over the top as you could be,” he said. and things went well and 35 years is a good tour. At some point you know and it’s time to let the next generation take the helm and lead.

Gahler said his orientation to a career in the fire service began at age 12 when his parents enrolled him in the air cadets, noting that he had “a lot of energy and no focus or direction”.

After five years as an air cadet, he traveled and studied music, then began to consider a career in public service. He looked at the coast guard, the military, the police and forestry departments, but the fire departments stood out.

When he came home from a military recruiting center, he was reading the newspaper and saw an ad saying that Edmonton was hiring firefighters.

“I read the job posting, and it ticked a lot of the boxes I was looking for with public service – excitement, teamwork, training, structure, being there when people need you and I started training camp eight months later,” he said.

Gahler started as a firefighter with the Edmonton Fire Rescue Services in 1987 and worked his way up to roles such as Platoon Training Coordinator, Technical Rescue Team Coordinator, Fire Officer, Captain and head of logistics and services.

“I used to joke if you lived in it, wore it, used it, or drove it, it fell on my desk,” Gahler said of his stint in an administrative role in 2013.

He joined the Canmore department in 2017 as Chief and continued in that role until his recent retirement.

“It’s been such a rewarding, challenging and fulfilling career,” he said, adding that he was glad he no longer had a pager in sight 24/7.

Gahler said the Canmore role offered an exciting opportunity and noted he would stay in the community with his wife – though probably not as much during the -30 degree Celsius winter days – and with his family in Calgary, Edmonton. and Victoria.

Although no moment stands out for him, Gahler said it was an opportunity to help people through their worst times that he will remember the most.

“I can think of dozens if not hundreds of events in a small way where we made a difference on the worst day of someone’s life. It’s cliché, but it’s true. … When something happens, we try our best to make it a little bit better,” he said.

“We can’t always solve the problem and sometimes a tragedy happens, but just being there to help someone when they’re having a really terrible day. That’s probably the biggest event that stood out to me. It was those small personal moments that marked the pride of my career.

As he leaves public service, Gahler praised the department and its local teams in the community.

“You have an incredible public service, you have an incredible fire department and an incredible group of people who work very hard to protect their communities,” he said of Canmore Fire-Rescue. “It’s a great multi-disciplinary team with skilled medical response, general rescue response in addition to the firefighting cogs.”