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Tobias Hovey is a homegrown leader.
The Chief of the La Nation Fire Department was born in Ottawa but raised on his family’s farm on Clemens Road near Riceville. That’s where his sense of community and responsibility took root.
Hovey went to high school in Plantagenet and Rockland, and then earned a Recreation Facilities Management Diploma at Algonquin College in Ottawa. He then worked for local excavation and roof truss companies before joining the La Nation Public Works Department in 2004. His firefighting career started in 2000, when his uncle, John Dale, invited him to join the La Nation department.
The chief said that informal invitations from relatives or friends to join the local fire department were once the norm, unlike now with the official recruitment and training policies the municipality has. In 2004, Hovey was the station chief for the Fournier station and became the first full-time chief for all La Nation in 2014.
Today, from his office at the St-Isidore fire station, he oversees a fire department that can operate with a full-compliment of 87 members but currently has 75 active firefighters. The department is hoping to hire seven or eight new firefighters this year.
“It’s the best thing ever because you get to help the people you’ve known all your life,” Hovey said about serving as the fire chief in his home community.
However, he also said it’s the most difficult thing because of when tragedy strikes.
To Hovey, the main functions of a fire department are fighting fires, education, and enforcement.
The chief said he would like to focus on education about fire prevention and response so firefighters do not actually have to respond to emergencies at the homes of their neighbours and relatives in the community.
“We’re not just there on the bad days for you. We want to be with you on the good days too,” he said.
Fire departments are often seen as community organizations as much as they are a public service. In La Nation, each station has its own characteristics, from the rural and village atmosphere of St-Isidore, Fournier, St-Albert, and St-Bernardin to the growing urban area of Limoges. Every station maintains its own firefighters association.
Each year, La Nation firefighters take part in the “boot drives” where they collect donations of change for muscular dystrophy research in empty rubber boots. The St-Isidore station gets involved with the annual Duck Festival, the Fournier firefighters have held community suppers in the past, the St-Albert station is involved with an annual baseball tournament, and the Limoges firefighters organize bingo games and Canada Day celebrations.
Hovey is also the President of the Riceville Agricultural Society and has served on its board for many years. He said his involvement with the fair comes from his roots in that community.
He also lives in La Nation with his wife, Angela Lavigne.
The chief did say there are challenges to operating a fire department similar to what exists in La Nation. There are diverse communities ranging from farms and rural homes to growing urban areas and the diversity of the demographics in those communities. He explained it’s important for people to understand response times in rural areas and that all residents need to know what they can do at home to protect themselves.