Mike Guest, who was appointed acting fire chief of the Renfrew Fire Department in November of 2021, is now the town’s first director of emergency and fire services following a council meeting last week.
Chief Guest was elevated from acting captain to acting chief in November of 2021 following the resignation of former chief Kevin Welsh. Council appointed Guest while the search began for a permanent replacement for the position. It is not unusual for the recruitment process to take six to nine months for these types of senior municipal positions.
He brings to the role 17 years of firefighting experience with the town and as both director of emergency services and the fire department, he will have a number of duties within both portfolios.
Among the duties involved overseeing the 10 full time firefighters and six new volunteer recruits, he is responsible for preparing the annual budget, reporting to both the chief administration officer (CAO) and town council, performing the statutory duties of fire chief under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, including the duties of assistant to the fire marshal, in accordance with provincial statutes and applicable municipal by‐laws, policies and practices.
He is also responsible for the continuous development and improvement of all departmental services to ensure compliance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
One of the major adjustments he will face, like any other fire chief who is promoted from within a department where they spent the majority of their career is making the transition from actively being involved in extinguishing an actual fire to an all-most hands off approach as the incident commander which involves overseeing all facets of the operation and making significant decisions in a highly stressful and potentially life‐ threatening environment.
When his appointment was made at council, chief Guest expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to audition for the role over the last nine months.
“This is an exciting opportunity for me and as you would expect there is a little bit of anxiety taking on a leadership role but the amount of support I have received from my staff and also the town of Renfrew since I assumed the role of acting chief,” he told council. “It made the transition much easier and any questions I had whether at the station or across the street, the support has been there. I look forward to serving my community.”
Wearing both hats, chief Guest will have the responsibility of working in conjunction with the chief administrative officer, in the role of community emergency management coordinator (CEMC). As CEMC, he will be responsible for the planning and direction of the town’s response to all emergencies within the town of Renfrew.
The dual role will also include his input on community development site plans, subdivision agreements, and new buildings, as well as oversee the development, implementation, and maintenance of the emergency management plan, emergency response plans and fire safety inspections.
Reeve Peter Emon, who is chair of the town’s Human Resources Committee, said the elevation of chief Guest was a natural extension of council and senior management’s desire to hire from within through succession planning and encouraging staff to seek long-term management positions as a town employee.
“Our recruitment in this case did not involve advertising outside of Renfrew for possible candidates,” he said in a telephone interview while attending the annual AMO (Association of Municipal Ontario) conference in Ottawa. “When council appointed Mike as acting chief we did so as a way to evaluate his performance and he indicated a desire to assume that role. He met expectations, and just as importantly, it provides the town with a steady and long-term leadership as he is more than 15 years away from the town’s policy of mandatory retirement at age 60 for all firefighters, including the chief.”
Reeve Emon went on to say that the elevation of chief Guest is the first major example of investing resources and training with existing town staff in order for them to be the next generation of senior management personnel to help guide Renfrew into the future.
“Over the last few years the town has been recruiting individuals at all positions with the intent to have them eventually assume senior management positions to not only provide the town with qualified leadership, but also reduce the burden of constantly using valuable time and resources towards ongoing recruitment," he said.