A number of challenges are ahead for Dennis Jones, the least of which is figuring out just what his new job will entail.
The 48-year-old Jones, who is a fourth-generation born and raised Ponoka area resident, was hired to fill the position as Ponoka County’s first-ever regional fire chief at the county council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 27. He was selected as the top candidate out of 26 applications that were received and made it through the short-list of four that were interviewed.
“All of the candidates were really strong, but the advantage for Dennis was his education and experience,” said Ponoka County chief administrative officer Charlie Cutforth.
“Having spent 10 years in management and administration at his present banking job along with the expertise and training that goes well beyond what we were looking for and that he knows the local situation we are dealing with, he brings a lot and more to this new post.”
For Jones, the move from branch manager at the Ponoka branch of Servus Credit Union and into this new post is simply a transition from a lengthy career in finance to continuing to work on a passion he has developed.
“My work has taken me all over Alberta and when I was given the chance to bring my family back to Ponoka in 2000, where I was raised, it just seemed to fit nicely,” he said in an interview Monday, Nov. 2 from the office he will vacate at Servus on Nov. 20.
“Having spent nearly 11 years on the Ponoka Fire Department, and now my recent work as part of the Rimbey Fire Department, plus the 10 years as branch manager at Servus along with the other numerous ways I have supported the community, taking this new job is kind of putting a career and a passion together. It was all there, so I figure what an opportunity this would be.”
As Ponoka County has stated from the start – and something Jones reiterated- the regional chief post will focus on managing and administering the fire protection services in the region with no changes in the operational or command structure of the two departments currently serving the area – Rimbey and Ponoka. One other focus will be on ensuring the departments have enough members so they don’t get stretched too thin and burn out occurs.
“While negotiations are still ongoing with Ponoka, meaning we will have to wait and see how this all rolls out and everything fits, what I see is us maintaining the incident command structure with the two fire chiefs leading their departments with me being there to support them through taking on the managing of the fire service and working with them on capital purchases, recruitment and retention, having consistency in training and helping to plan their budgets. We also need to remember these are volunteers that can get burnt out,” Jones explained.
“A regional fire service model works well by being more effective and efficient. With my strong background in recruitment, training, budgeting as well as my connections with the fire departments and the communities in Ponoka and Rimbey, it’s going to be an interesting but great challenge ahead.”
One of those challenges will be analyzing the current and future needs of the Rimbey Fire Department and then integrating and balancing those with what the Ponoka Fire Department brings to the equation. That is, if and when the Town of Ponoka and Ponoka County are able to negotiate an agreement that would put the department under the regional umbrella.
“We are still negotiating with Ponoka, and once an agreement is made, it is critical that all three chiefs work together or it won’t work,” explained Cutforth.
“We don’t see the actual operations changing at all. The local chiefs will, as always, run their departments and at the scene, but the benefit will come in the consistency of training, the ability to work on recruitment and retaining firefighters and putting the revenue generated from department activities right back into fire service. This is the most important service in the county, it’s a brotherhood and we need to treat it that way.”
For his part, Ponoka fire chief Jamie Wilkinson is looking forward to working with Jones on a plan to move things forward – once an agreement is signed – and hopes the transition keeps things operating smoothly. Meanwhile, the vast community of Ponoka and the county have shown their support with social media blowing up with congratulations and well wishes for Jones’ new job.
“It’s been humbling and encouraging, all the support through social media, texts, phone calls I have received from work colleagues, firefighters both locally and around the province, people from the surrounding community – it’s just great,” Jones said.
“I’ve always been big on giving back to the community, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep that strong connection to the community through my job. In hindsight, it’s great and unique that I can serve the community where I grew up and it’s important to maintain that good community feel. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
While talks continue between the town and county, county council also approved a motion at the meeting that would see an advisory committee set up with representation from the county, Summer Village of Parkland and the towns of Rimbey and Ponoka – once all agreements are in place – to provide consultation, direction and an avenue to voice concerns on the workings of the regional fire structure. The formation and make up of the committee will be revisited annually.