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New deputy chief a long-time volunteer

Deputy Fire Chief Darren Trostenko ( Penny Coles) As part of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire Department’s reorganization of staff, local Darren Trostenko has been given the position of deputy fire chief — or one of them, with the recent move to have two
Deputy Fire Chief Darren Trostenko  (Penny Coles)

As part of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire Department’s reorganization of staff, local Darren Trostenko has been given the position of deputy fire chief — or one of them, with the recent move to have two deputy chiefs with distinct duties.

Trostenko, who grew up on York Road in St. Davids, and with his wife Laura has brought up their two sons, Eric and Brian, down the road on Paxton Lane (the “old” part of the lane) in St. Davids, — with a short stint living up the road in Stanford until they could afford a home back in the village.

As a boy, he attended the former Mapleleaf School, St. Davids Public School, and then went to Denis Morris High School, continuing to play minor sports in town, including baseball, hockey and lacrosse.

For the last 30 years, he has been a member of the St. Davids fire station, where he rose through the ranks to the role of district chief.

In recent years, he has had the pleasure of working alongside his younger son, Eric, who is also a volunteer firefighter.

Trostenko says he was never one of those boys who dreamed of growing up to be a fireman, and when he joined the department as a volunteer, it was not with the goal of transitioning to a professional. 

Both his father and his uncle were police officers — his father with the regional police force, his uncle with the Ontario Provincial Police.

He thought that might be his future as well, but tests showed some colour blindness, which eliminated that possibility.

His older son, Brian, hopes to go that route. Living in Barrie, he has taken a police college course and hopes to land a job as a police officer.

So at 21, when he was single, Trostenko decided joining the fire department would be an interesting way to spend his spare time outside of work — he started in the lumber business the same year he became a volunteer.

“I was always happy to be a volunteer, just going along and doing my thing,” he said, and he’s still a firefighter, but in January he traded a job he enjoyed at Penners Building Centre for a full-time position in the fire department, as deputy chief in charge of operations and training.

He’d never applied for a department job, but when this opportunity presented itself, Trostenko said, at 51, “I figured if I was ever going to do it, I better do it now.”

He’d volunteered during some of the same years as Fire Chief Nick Ruller, although they were at different stations, and he believed their ideas about the department were aligned.

“I think we view things in similar ways, and have the same direction and vision for the future.”

Now, with a full complement of staff, “every one of us has also been a volunteer firefighter,” he said.

Former fire prevention office Jay Plato had already been promoted to deputy fire chief overseeing fire prevention and community risk reduction.

Brad Disher is the new fire prevention and public education officer, Darryl Janzen the training officer, and Matt van der Zalm the administrative assistant.

And when Trostenko’s buzzer goes off, he still responds, although now more in a command role, “but I would still put my gear on if necessary.”

When the department had two calls close together recently, he was on his way to the Pillar and Post for a kitchen fire, with Ruller behind him. When the call to a Firelane structure, “Nick pulled off to head to the firelane.”

Having administrative staff who are also locals, and have been volunteers, is not necessary, and not always the case, he said, but it is a benefit.

Trostenko’s 30 years in the department, and most recently as a district chief, showed him to be “a proven leader,” said Ruller. “He is one of the most dedicated firefighters I have seen.

In Trostenko’s career in the fire service, Ruller said, “there are very few people who can compare, especially in attendance.”

When Ruller presented a report to councillors in December explaining the realignment he was proposing, he received praise from Lord Mayor Betty Disero for finding a way to effectively staff the department without a large budget increase.

Ruller, also a local and a long-time volunteer firefighter, was named chief after a turnover of chiefs in the department in the last two to three years, and he explained in his report that there had also been a significant turnover of department employees, including going through two deputy fire chiefs, four training officers, three fire prevention officers and for administrative assistants.

Several of them left for higher salaries, some twice the rate paid for the same position in NOTL,  with shorter work weeks, he said.

Having two deputy chiefs takes some of the pressure off other employees, the report explains, with no increase in staff, just a reclassification in duties. 

The overall impact of fire department staff to the budget was a $14,000 increase for 2020, which had already been included in the draft budget.