Nick Ruller, acting fire chief of Niagara-on-the-Lake for several months, has now been officially given the title of fire chief.
He has held the position of deputy chief with the Town since March, 2017, after spending 16 years in the operations division with Toronto Fire Services.
Ruller grew up in Virgil’s Homestead neighbourhood, went to Virgil Public School and then Niagara District Secondary School, both now closed.
He became a volunteer firefighter in 1999, fresh out of high school, and in 2003, was hired as a professional firefighter in Toronto — the goal of many who start off in the local department.
He has completed a public administration and governance program at Ryerson University, a Master’s in leadership from the University of Guelph, and holds a graduate certificate from the University of North Carolina in community preparedness and disaster management.
Like many young adults, Ruller says after high school, he couldn’t wait to get away from this small community and move to a big city, and also like so many others, decided “four kids later” this was the very best place to raise his family. He got his Toronto-born wife onside, moved to Garrison Village, and became the deputy fire chief for his hometown in 2017. His kids attend Crossroads Public School, which replaced his elementary school. And he’s living the dream: he says he loves being back in NOTL, working for the Town and being part of a great fire department.
When he considers being named fire chief in the community where he started as a volunteer, he says, “I think there is tremendous value in having started out that way. I’ve been developing relationships with the department and volunteer firefighters ever since. Some of them I’ve known for 20 years. Looking back on the role I’ve had here for the last two and a half years, I’ve had the support that has developed through those relationships.”
Ruller says he appreciates the support from the volunteers, from council and from town staff.
“It’s extremely important council and staff recognize what the volunteers do day to day, and that volunteers have had that support. That’s really encouraging,” he says.
The growing number of homes and families in town, and the large number of visitors, put a lot of pressure on the fire department, he says.
“We ask a lot of the volunteers, so we need to meet their needs as well. They’re here for different reasons — the intrinsic rewards of the job, giving back to their community, and being part of a team of individuals who are like-minded and share the same values.”
It’s a unique situation when individuals are working together, with motivations other than just showing up to work and getting a pay cheque, says Ruller, creating its own set of challenges.
In the time he’s been here, the organization has come a long way, improving its equipment, training and safety programs, he says.
“I look at the significant strides we made, and I know I can continue to build on these successes, and continue to move in the direction that will meet those challenges. As a whole, we have been heading in the right direction. Our focus has been trying to provide the highest level of service we can with the resources we have, and we’ve re-engaged our members and have their support, says Ruller.
“I found it rewarding being back as a deputy. I look at this opportunity as just as rewarding.”
The department took on 19 new recruits in its latest drive, with their training involving the volunteers, he adds.
“It’s pretty impressive to see when you look at the process, at how those individuals progress and adapt our values as their own,” says Ruller.
Staff has also increased over time to meet the needs of a growing community, he says.
“We provide a good level of service based on the resources we have here, and we hope to keep moving forward.”
Ruller’s promotion to fire chief comes after an internal hiring process, and also carries with it the duties of community emergency management co-ordinator, a role he had taken on during discussions of emergency plans due to high water levels in the Dock Area.
In both roles, he replaces Rob Grimwood, who was hired by the Town in February, 2017 and went on leave earlier this year. It was announced in July Grimwood had left the Town to pursue other opportunities, and in August, he was given the position of fire chief for Dryden, Ont.