'He's an inspiration': Lamont Fire Department celebrates 70 years, honours firefighter

The Lamont Fire Department honoured its longest-serving member Sunday, as the service celebrated its 70-year anniversary.

The department was officially formed in 1951 after a large fire in the town.

“A big fire burned out the centre of the town, (there was) no fire equipment, no fire department, that was in June of 1950,” said Bob Mitchell, a firefighter.

In 1951, Lamont had under 400 residents, according to Mitchell. That’s when he was asked to join the newly-formed service.

Now 70 years later, at 89 years old, Mitchell is still an active member of the department.

“I’m still active but I don’t go out on calls, my legs gave out,” said Mitchell.

“He’s almost a legend in his own right,” said Scott Calder, chief of the department. “He’s really almost like a fatherly figure to all of us.”

Calder believes Mitchell has the best attendance record of the firefighters at the service, he only misses Tuesday night training if it’s severely icy or a blizzard is raging.

“Probably one of my favourite things about Bob is Bob always has a story,” added Calder. “He’s got 70 years’ worth of incredible stories of incidents or people that he’s got to meet and experiences.

“It’s just so incredible to sit down with him and have a cup and hear some of the things he’s seen or witnessed in his time.”

Mitchell did consider retiring when his wife died 20 years ago.

“But where do you go? That’s where all your friends are,” said Mitchell. “The camaraderie is tremendous in the Lamont Fire Department.”

The fire hall has changed over the past 70 years. Initially the building was shared, with space for the town office and a jail cell, according to Calder.

The newest change for the building was unveiled Sunday, it now goes by the name Robert A. Mitchell. The department voted to name it in honour of the only surviving original member of the service.

“Tremendous, that’s something I never expected,” said Mitchell.

“It’s quite amazing, overwhelming, that anybody could serve that long and an honour to be received when you’re still alive,” said Herman Sieker, a retired department deputy fire chief.

Mitchell is also believed to be one of the longest serving firefighters in Canada. According to Sieker, the record is held by Walter Thomas in Fort Saskatchewan.

“Walter served on the Fort Saskatchewan Fire Department for 70 years, 6 months and 3 weeks,” added Sieker. “Bob is just past 70 years.

“He’s an inspiration, all the young firefighters joining aspired to do what Bob has done and serve that long.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Amanda Anderson