Experience shouldn’t be a problem for Tillsonburg’s new deputy fire chief.
But Terry Saelens is bringing much to the position beyond even a four-decade-long firefighting resume.
“Passion,” said the Tillsonburg resident. “Passion and respect for firefighters, since you’ve been around that long.”
Saelens’ career started earlier than officially sanctioned, and he has loved his position as a Tillsonburg volunteer firefighter since first putting the gear on in 1973 at the age of 19.
“I was supposed to be 20,” he smiled. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a great group of guys – learned all the way along.”
Fire chief Jeff Smith is pleased to see a hometown veteran with ’39-and-seven-eigths’ years of experience (“He won’t let me say 40,” Smith laughed) to the table, citing his successful candidacy as successive management planning coming to fruition, in the sense promotion came from within the department.
“It’s a bonus when you have an external and internal competition and the best candidate is from within,” said Smith, agreeing Saelens does know his way around the community. “Very familiar with it – he brings a wealth of knowledge.”
Saelens has been fire captain for the past couple of decades plus, said Smith, and “Obviously was a huge asset in that role – this is a continuation.”
Saelens’ promotion to deputy chief opens up that position says Smith, providing additional opportunity for in-house advancement.
“It certainly is a healthy progression.”
Beyond being fire captain, Saelens has gotten more involved in training as his career advanced, including with the Joint Training Association (including two years as lead coordinator for an entity encompassing seven counties), and as an associate training facilitator with Office of the Ontario Fire Marshall.
“It’s nice to give some of the knowledge and information you’ve learned along the way back to the recruits,” he said.
Saelens’ goals in his new position are to help advance firefighters to the level they should be at, along with getting the best firefighting value for the community.
“And for me, the biggest thing is bring ‘em all home. Good to get there, but the number one mandate is to bring them all home safe, safe, safe.”
Saelens is facing a personal transition from independent business owner-operator to full-time firefighter, but says those within the department won’t notice any great difference in his approach.
“Nothing’s going to change,” said Saelens, who has made his captain’s badge a fixture in his new office. “Every day it reminds me of where I came from.”
And even though even Saelens concedes he’s “celebrating his 40th year,” as a firefighter, he may well have something of that rookie excitement back in his gait as he welcomes a bright new – and extended – future.
“My dad’s 87,” he concluded with a laugh. “I’ve got lots of years in me.”