Meet the New St. Stephen Fire Chief

By Lura Jackson

 

Earlier this year, the retirement of Jeff Richardson from the St. Stephen Fire Department – after 37 years as a member and a full 25 as its chief – left a distinct vacancy felt by firefighters on both sides of the border. In the beginning of August, with endorsements coming in from all sides, Sean Morton stepped in to fill the role of St. Stephen Fire Chief.

A St. George native, Morton was essentially raised in the fire department as a result of his father, Michael, being the St. George Fire Chief. “I grew up right behind the fire station, so I’ve pretty much been in the fire hall since I was old enough to climb the fence and follow dad,” Morton said with a characteristic easy smile.

Morton became a firefighter in St. George officially in 1986, becoming Deputy Chief not long after in the early 1990s. He continued in that capacity until becoming Chief, a position he held for the past seven years.

When his mentor, Jeff Richardson, announced his intention to retire, he encouraged Morton to follow in his footsteps to apply for the position of St. Stephen Fire Chief. “He said, ‘I’ve got your back.’ I’m very proud to sit in his chair,” Morton said. At the request of the St. George crew, Morton will remain Deputy Chief at their station. Doing so will lend to their capabilities and ensure a smooth transition for their incoming chief. Morton will remain located in St. George for the time being, with a transit time of about 23 minutes to St. Stephen.

There are both similarities and differences between the St. George and St. Stephen departments, Morton shared. The roster in St. Stephen includes 30 crew members, while in St. George, where the department is combined with Bonny River’s, the roster was about 24.

The call volume is about the same between the two stations, though the types of calls are somewhat different. The St. George station is located in a rural area, contributing to bush and remote rescue-related calls, while the St. Stephen station is more urban, lending to structure-related calls.

While Morton is somewhat familiar with St. Stephen from shopping in the area and playing sports, he acknowledges the importance of knowing the city and its structures as thoroughly as possible. “Each day I make a mail run or get lunch, I try to take a different route and think, ‘What can I do to remember this street?’” Along with street names, he is working on learning the layouts of the larger businesses and facilities in the area to know how to safely navigate them during an emergency. “There are a few challenges to moving into a new town as the fire chief, but I’m looking forward to them all. I’m well under way with a lot of them.”

Former Fire Chief Richardson, for his part, couldn’t be happier with Morton’s appointment. “Sean’s very, very knowledgeable and an all-around great guy. I don’t think people will see much of a difference,” he chuckled. “He’ll do a really good job as he gets his feet under him. Down the road, I think people will really enjoy working with him.”

Collaboration is key to the success of local fire departments. “All of the departments in Charlotte and Washington County rely heavily on mutual aid,” Morton said. He was accustomed to it in St. George, which is a central station in Charlotte County. “The difference in St. Stephen is that it’s international. We actually physically cross an international boundary, and that’s not something that’s common at all.” Mutual aid is prompted when a fire scene is potentially significant, sending either Calais or St. Stephen firefighters over the border as needed. As a recent example, Calais responded on Monday, August 20th to a fire at the Flakeboard facility in St. Stephen.

Calais Fire Chief Ken Clark shared that he is looking forward to working with Morton and believes he can offer valuable input to the St. Stephen department. “Having worked with what we call an ‘outsider,’ I think the department has a chance to get a different prospective on the operations from another department,” Clark said.

Budget-wise, fire departments often have an ongoing need for big ticket items, particularly ladder trucks. At present, St. Stephen – like many municipalities in the area – relies on the ladder truck stationed in Calais. That truck is from 1985 and is in need of replacement. Ladder trucks are becoming particularly important to fire departments in part as a result of new materials being used for home construction, Morton explained. “Rough lumber is a thing of the past, but now it’s lightweight materials that are very strong unless weakened by fire.” Metal roofs also present a hazard for firefighters in the winter, requiring a ladder truck to provide an elevated platform to tackle the fire from above to avoid pitfalls presented by frost and snow.

Morton said he is open to the possibility of working with Calais to coordinate fundraising for a new ladder truck for the area, but wasn’t able to offer specifics. “At this point, it’s too early to tell,” he said. “It’s a big expense, but there is justification. I would think, as an outlying citizen, that would be a justifiable expense.”

Calais Fire Chief Clark pointed out another challenge Morton will have to contend with. “Sean’s true calling will come in March when they sponsor the fire department curling funspiel – a tradition started years ago when Leo Richards was the chief and carried through by Chief Charles Denyer, and of course Chief Jeff Richardson. They host teams from throughout the province for a fantastic day of fun and camaraderie,” Clark said.

 

“Sean has a very dedicated group of firefighters and we will do all we can to assist him in our mission,” Calais Fire Chief Clark concluded.