Sparling resigns after 25 years with FDNH - Jan. 26, 2017
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council will be looking for a new chief for the Fire Department of North Huron (FDNH) and new Principal of the Emergency Services Training Centre (ESTC) as David Sparling has announced his departure.
Sparling will finish his full-time responsibilities with the municipality Feb. 17, going to part-time and remaining on standby lists for the department until March 31.
Sparling was installed as chief three and a half years ago after the passing of then-chief John Black led North Huron to a search for Black’s replacement.
Sparling stepped into the position after years as deputy-chief and taking over the running of the ESTC following Black’s death.
In an interview with The Citizen, Sparling explained the decision.
“About a year ago it became clear I couldn’t sustain the hours needed to do justice to the ESTC and maintain the Fire Department of North Huron,” he said. “I’ve been working months worth of extra time every year since I started.”
The ESTC and FDNH both require dedicated full-time leadership roles, Sparling said, to reach their full potential.
Sparling came to North Huron Council early in 2016 and explained the changes were necessary and council approved a plan to have a consultant review the day-to-day operations of the ESTC.
A year has passed since that presentation and with no changes made yet, Sparling decided to leave the department after 25 years of service. He will now join Blyth Cowbell Brewing Company, a company he owns alongside his brother Steven and nephew Grant.
Sparling likened the decision to when Parkland Fuels bought Sparlings Propane and he and his brother left the company.
“I like the people I work with,” he said. “I’m not looking forward to leaving them. I faced the same situation at Sparlings and didn’t want to leave them.”
Sparling has fond memories of the department and the ESTC, most notably when the ESTC was officially opened with then-Ontario Fire Marshal Bernard Moyle in attendance on July 30, 2004.
“Having that facility allowed us to make sure our people were trained,” he said. “We see people at their worst or during some of their worst times and we want to be at our best.”
Sparling said he takes great pride in the quality of service the department has provided and said he sincerely believes that the department does good work.
“Every emergency, whether it’s big or small, we do our best,” he said. “It’s rewarding when, as a chief, your firefighters do well.”
Sparling said being a chief is a unique experience because it’s no longer him on the front line and he has to trust the people he has assembled and trained to do their best, which makes it all the more rewarding when he knows they did well.
“Becoming a chief gave me a new respect for my predecessors in Wingham, Blyth and North Huron’s fire department,” he said. “No one is really aware of the responsibility involved until they are in the role.”
Sparling also was happy to say that, under new training guidelines recently released by the National Fire Protection Association, the FDNH has reached levels of training usually seen in urban fire departments with full-time firefighters.
Sparling also said he’s proud that he has been able to affect changes to safeguard firefighters’ health.
“We’ve had a real drive for health and safety since I took over,” he said. “That includes cancer prevention initiatives and making sure personnel are properly looked after.”
Aside from big-ticket items like machines to wash cancer-causing agents out of bunker gear, Sparling said the changes also meant having safety officers on the department, having portable toilets at emergency sites and making sure suitable food and beverage is available for firefighters during prolonged incidents.
Sparling also said that a lot of actions had been taken to improve safety of people in the municipalities he covers, pointing to 911 number and street address improvements.
The ESTC has seen ups and downs during the past several years, Sparling said, pointing to advancements like the marine safety training programs the site is launching this spring and the long-term pursuit of having the ESTC named an official college campus.
“That possibility is there and it’s exciting,” he said.
While Sparling is getting ready to leave the department and centre, he still hopes that North Huron can find what’s needed to have both the FDNH and the ESTC operating at their best.
“I hope that my departure can allow a reorganization,” he said. I’m a huge advocate for shared services. The best service will cost and if the price is sharing, it’s what we need to do. I’m just not sure there is the political will behind it.”
In an interview with The Citizen prior to North Huron Council’s Jan. 23 meeting when the issue would be first addressed by council, North Huron Chief Administrative Officer Sharon Chambers said a report was being prepared for council to consider recruitment options.
She also said last summer's consultant’s report about how to run the ESTC more effectively, which includes a number of recommendations, would be brought before council in February.