New chief at fire hall to guide Olympic planning 

Bruce Hall retires after six years as Whistler chief

By Alison Taylor

After 34 years in the fire service, Whistler’s Fire Chief, Bruce Hall, is retiring and a new fire chief will be ramping up the resort’s Olympic preparations for the 2010 Games.

His successor is current Assistant Fire Chief Rob Whitton, who has been with the Whistler force for the past four and a half years. Whitton will have the unique job description of fire chief of a resort preparing to host the Winter Games.

“It will be (a challenge),” Whitton said this week, of his responsibilities preparing Whistler’s firefighting plans for the Games. “I’m looking forward to it though. I think it’s going to be exciting and I think everybody involved within the entire department is going to step up and will be really amazed at what we come up with.”

Hall retires at the end of December, after six years as the head of the Whistler department. He said this week that it was just time for him to retire, leaving Whitton with three years to prepare for the Games.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be around for the Olympics and I felt strongly that I needed to go prior to the Olympics to give my successor the opportunity to develop along with the Olympic planning within the resort municipality,” said Hall.

He recommended Whitton for the job.

With 20 years as a firefighter under his belt, Whitton was poised to assume the position of chief. But it takes more than experience to handle the pressures of the top job.

Whitton, a father of two and grandfather of five, had to go through a psychological evaluation by a career development psychologist to see if he was up for the challenge.

“It’s more or less how you deal with people and your management style and your ability to deal effectively with others, primarily at the executive level,” said Whitton, who recently finished a masters of arts in leadership and training from Royal Rhodes University.

Whitton will be responsible for overseeing two assistant fire chiefs, four lieutenants, 16 career firefighters and 60 paid on-call firefighters.

The 46-year-old career firefighter moved to Whistler with his wife in 2002 to be assistant fire chief after 15 years in the Abbotsford department.

As chief, he’ll be taking over from Hall’s work already underway with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games. Hall said they have just submitted a confidential report to VANOC on fire service delivery for the Games.

Next year will see the planning ramp up to a new level, particularly the fire planning for the individual Olympic venues such as the athletes’ village and the bobsled/luge track. It is not clear how many firefighters and equipment will be needed for those 60 days in 2010.

“I would say that probably by the end of 2007, beginning 2008, we’ll have a very clear picture of what’s going to be required within the municipality,” said Whitton.

In addition to his role in Whistler, Hall was also the president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. and a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. He was also the chair of the B.C. Public Fire and Life Safety Advisory Committee.

He has resigned from his various boards but will continue as chair of the board of the Justice Institute.

His six years in Whistler, he said, was made easier by the team effort from council and municipal staff, by the local firefighters union and the management team at the fire hall.

Though he is looking forward to retirement in Whistler, firefighting will always be close to his heart.

“To a certain extent being in the fire service is something that kind of gets into your blood. Certainly I’ll miss it. But I’m really looking forward to a change and something new and different.”

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