At 5 p.m. on September 21, one month after he was appointed as the new Fire Chief for Ottawa Fire Services, Kim Ayotte received a telephone call at his cottage on Otter Lake. Six violent tornadoes had touched down in Ottawa and Gatineau, with 265 km/hour winds, causing severe devastation to two hundred buildings and homes.
With more than twenty-nine years of professional fire services experience, including fifteen years with Ottawa Fire Services, Kim utilized his training and expertise to lead and oversee his teams while on site in those areas deeply affected by the disaster.
The Fire Chief met with residents whose lives were forever changed as they were rescued from demolished buildings and homes that were blown away. Paramedic squads tended to the injured, police secured neighbourhoods, protected properties and only when everyone was accounted for and the area deemed safe, were residents allowed to return to retrieve medications, pets, and valuables.
That day, and the ones following, highlighted how the City of Ottawa and all its departments and partners worked together as one team. 272,000 people were without power for several days, yet miraculously there were zero fatalities and only thirty injured. Kim understands that disaster can strike without warning and recommends that everyone should have a 72-hour preparedness kit to be self-sustaining for three days if a similar event happens. (Information at www.ottawa.ca).
Grateful for his family’s health and well-being, Kim is looking forward to sharing the excitement of the festive season at the cottage with his wife Helene and their two adult children Logan (26) and Sylvie (22). He has fond memories of the French-Canadian tradition of Reveillon, where everyone attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve, followed by a huge feast of his mother’s beloved specialties. His favourite job is to find the biggest and tallest tree to decorate outside at the cottage for a magical setting. He believes that being with his family and keeping them safe is the greatest gift of all.
Why did you want to become a firefighter? Initially I wanted to be a police officer so I could work in public safety. My grandfather was a firefighter in Timmins and my father was a volunteer firefighter in Earlton and Elliot Lake. I liked firefighting, but I wanted to forge my own path and went to study law at Carleton University.
When I graduated I was hired by the Ministry of the Environment as an investigator. I bought my first home in St. Catharines in a neighbourhood where I served as a volunteer firefighter captain for eight years. To me it is not just about fighting fires, but getting to really know your community. I believe it really is a community that makes who you become.
What challenges come with your position? Making sure that the business runs like a business while always wanting to improve things. When we have serious incidents we need to step back and look at the larger picture, and after a post-incident analysis, we find ways to improve. This allows firefighters to examine where they can do things better.
You get to be a very strong and good team when you can reflect and talk about what you have done that could have been done better and then make sure you don’t repeat that. Firefighters by their very nature want to help people. That is why I wanted to do it as well.
How do you want to improve firefighters’ lives? By improving their working conditions through a wellness and fitness initiative in order to be fully prepared for the job. This also includes mental health. It is important they have the best equipment to properly protect them from contaminants that cause cancers from working in burning buildings. Work related cancer is recognized by the WSIB and the province with presumptive legislation. Unfortunately, too many firefighters die from cancer and we continue to conduct important research on how to prevent this.
What is next for you? This is the pinnacle of my career and this is how I feel at this point in time. I am very excited to have attained this position and hope to leave it in a better place than I found it—although it was in great shape when I arrived. I am pleased to be part of that continued success while looking for ways to improve things and I hope to be able to help along that path. The future is the future, and we will see what it holds, but right now I am very pleased where I am.