Mapleton Fire Chief Rick Richardson retires after 39 years of service

MAPLETON – Reflecting on nearly four decades of firefighting on his second last day on the job, Mapleton Fire Chief Rick Richardson recounted how his first involvement with the local brigade was a fire call to his own home.

After 39 years of service to the Drayton and Mapleton fire departments, Richardson has announced his retirement, effective July 14.

“Rick has been an integral part of our fire department since January 1984 and has served as fire chief since October, 2002,” states a press release from the municipality.

“We extend our best wishes to Rick and his family as he embarks on this new chapter in his life.”

In a July 13 interview Richardson recounted the story of his recruitment, shortly after moving to Drayton, where he was operating a dairy equipment business.

His wife, Paula, returned home from helping at a local nursery school to find the house “full of smoke,” due to a stuck thermostat on an oven timer.

The fire was contained to the oven, but with smoke all over the house, she called the fire department.

After the fire was extinguished, one of the firefighters suggested to Rick that someone working in town, like himself, would make a good candidate for the department.

Richardson stopped by Alva Cherrey’s Garage, operated by the local fire chief.

“I said to Alva, ‘I hear you’re looking for firefighters.’”

“We’re always looking for firefighters. You want to join?” replied Cherry.

“I said ‘yeah’ and he said ‘Okay, here’s a pager,’” Richardson recalled. “I just kind of learned from there.”

Advances in training are among the major changes Richardson has seen over his time in the fire service.

“These days, a firefighter, before he ever gets on a truck, is going to take 200 hours of county training, learning about using pumps, auto extrication, medical calls and other elements of the job,” Richardson explained.

Firefighters are then tested by the Ontario Fire College to obtain a Firefighter One certificate.

“Then they can get on trucks,” said Richardson, noting regular training continues throughout a firefighter’s career.

Gear worn by firefighters has also advanced.

“It’s just more heat resistant and smoke-proof, safer for firefighters by a long shot,” he said.

These days fire vehicles include safe, enclosed spaces for firefighters to ride in to calls.

“When I first joined, we used to ride on the back of trucks. Going to a call, the first two guys would get in the front of the truck and the next guys are on the back rail of the truck hanging on,” he said.

“You’d go out in the winter over to Conestogo Lake with the truck going around those curves … I know a couple of guys that call that the good old days …. No, no, no, they were the lucky days – lucky we got through them,” Richardson stated.

Fire Chief Rick Richardson, left, and deputy chief Daryl Brodhaecker help serve breakfast at the Mapleon Fire Rescue annual Fire Safety Pancake Breakfast at the Maryborough Community Centre in 2019. Advertiser file photo


He says the best part of firefighting is being able to make a difference in outcome.

One example was a 2018 incident, in which firefighters were called to a barn fire at a location with six barns “tied together” and a house “pretty close.”

The property owner who called in the blaze said, “I’m going to lose everything … there’s no way you’re going to stop this thing because of the hay and straw in the barns.”

Mapleton firefighters, with assistance from the Palmerston department, tackled the blaze and kept it from spreading.

Afterward, the property owner told Richardson, “I’m so impressed with your organization.

“You guys stopped that fire at the second barn … I owe you and your guys a debt of gratitude for even keeping us in business … I’ll never forget this.”

During his time on the job, Richardson said the fire department has been on the scene in time to save numerous lives through defibrillation and CPR.

“I guess the most famous one we had was an actor by the name of Eric Duncan from Stratford, a Shakespearean actor,” Richardson explained.

“He was in the Drayton Festival Theatre …. he went out and said his first line, then dropped to the ground. Of course, the crowd thought it was all part of the play.”

Fortunately, the crew in the theatre sound booth recognized the problem and called for help.

Richardson, who was just a block away helping a friend move, responded with another firefighter and performed CPR on the victim until the ambulance arrived with a defibrillator.

While the show obviously couldn’t go on, the actor was taken to hospital and recovered.

Perhaps ironically, the biggest fire Richardson was involved in fighting was a blaze that destroyed the Township of Mapleton public works shed on Sideroad 16, during one of the busiest two-day stretches the local department had ever experienced.

Local firefighters had dealt with calls involving a house fire, a burning truck and a fire in a corn dryer on Nov. 28, 2013.

Just before 6pm the following day, a call came in from a passerby who spotted fire at the works shed.

Drayton and Moorefield station firefighters responded, with Arthur firefighters called in to supply water and manpower and Centre Wellington’s Elora station called in to supply an aerial truck.

The fire had been calmed down by about 1am and manpower and equipment were scaled back.

However, a crew of six with pumper, water and ladder trucks remained on the scene to watch for flare ups. That happened at about 5:30am, Richardson told the Advertiser in an interview a few days later.

“The wind came from the west really hard and picked up a spark on the end of the building and it just took off through the trusses,” he said at the time.

“It was through the trusses and into the mezzanine within 10 minutes.”

Firefighters and roads department employees managed to get trucks and equipment out of the shed earlier, but the building itself was total loss and was replaced with a new facility, which was officially opened in May of 2017.

“That same night we had a house fire in Drayton. A basement (apartment) had caught fire, a family of four was living there,” Richardson told the Advertiser.

“The smoke alarm went off and they got out, but the whole basement was full of fire and so part of our crew from the township building had to go to that fire.”

Richardson said bringing new firefighters onto the local team has long been among his favourite parts of the job.

“Helping people learn about medical calls and CPR and also learning how to get the pumps running and get the water running and putting fires out, because that’s always very rewarding when you get something put out without too much damage,” he stated.

“If you’ve got the desire and want to help and have time to train and be on the job, it’s very rewarding.”

Richardson and his wife are launching his retirement with a golf trip to Michigan, and they plan to spend more time on the links.

“We’re going to golf at least once a week,” he said, adding he’s recently become a pickleball enthusiasts and plays several times a week.

More time with the Richardsons’ two children and five grandchildren, who all live in Drayton, is also on the agenda, he said.

After “carrying a pager since 1984,” the chief is looking forward to a less stressful lifestyle.

Upon learning of his plan to retire, Richardson said a friend told him “ the weight off your belt without a pager will be a big relief.”

“I said ‘the weight off my shoulders will be a ton bigger relief.'”

Mapleton CAO Manny Baron told the Advertiser that, with Richardson’s retirement, Daryl Brodhaecker and Tom Wood, the deputy chiefs of Mapleton Fire Rescue’s Drayton and Moorefield stations respectively, are currently in charge of the department.

The township plans to introduce an interim chief “in the very near future,” Baron added.