ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. - Andrew Cranton has been Annapolis Royal fire chief for just 10 days, but already he knows his biggest responsibility is making sure his firefighters get home safe and sound after every call.
It’s a daunting task and a big responsibility.
Chief Cranton looks back at his predecessors like Malcolm Francis and Rick Smith with a new-found admiration. Those are big boots to fill. Cranton is now the guy people look to for direction, and making mistakes isn’t an option.
“It would totally devastate me if anything happened,” he said. “I take this job dead seriously.”
It’s a family of first responders who rely on each other through thick and thin.
“When I took that first leap to the white hat I grew up basically overnight. I had to,” said Cranton of his move to third deputy almost five years ago. “When you’re looking down and the rest of the crew is looking up at you for direction – things became really real.”
The new chief takes over from Francis who steered the department through some tough years of calls ranging from first response to fatal accidents, a summer of unprecedented forest fires, and the second devastating fire at legendary Milford House.
Cranton was there for it all and in his decades with the volunteer department has discovered three main truths about firefighting – Wednesday night training, the need for the proper equipment, and the need for community support.
“In the almost 25 years I’ve been here we train every Wednesday night,” he said, adding that while it may seem repetitive, you learn something new about a particular thing every time you train.
“Through our training here every Wednesday night, and our guys come out faithfully, we are prepared to the best of our abilities,” he said. “We’re going in not unarmed. We’re going in armed with everything we can. This new tool that we purchased (Jaws of Life), this is just another piece in the arsenal for us that we can save lives faster.”
While he’s being interviewed, firefighter Matt Smith and Cranton’s son firefighter Alex Cranton are getting ready for the Wednesday night Chase the Ace. The fire hall is packed with people buying tickets and waiting for the draw. The Ace is worth $85,000 and hundreds of people are tuning in on Facebook Live to see if their ticket is draw. While the hefty payout is incentive for public support, Chief Cranton said the public is really invested in their firefighters.
“The community is so driven with this fire hall,” he said. “They know where their money is going. Their money is going to help the community via the fire department. Everything that we raise is being used to purchase equipment to better ourselves.”
Andrew Cranton started out with the ARVFD in 1994.
“I worked at CFB Cornwallis and I met a gentleman by the name of Raymond Wiles,” Cranton recalled. “He told me one day, he said ‘you’d make a good fireman. You really need to join.’ He said ‘I’m going to get you an application.’ I was really hesitant about filling out the application because I was young and ‘was this the thing for me?’ I’d never been around anything like this before. The trucks of course always intrigued me as a little boy, but to be actually part and parcel here? I didn’t think I’d ever do it.”
But he signed the application and Wiles endorsed it and wrote his name at the bottom.
“I came to the meeting and got voted in unanimously and it took off from there,” he said. He took his Level 1 and has been learning ever since.
“I took the job more seriously as I grew up. I learned every aspect of what there was to learn about this hall from being a fireman to learning how to drive the trucks,” he said. “I started out driving the tankers and I stayed with that for about two years until I was completely comfortable with that.”
Then he learned pumpers one night found himself the first truck out on Highway 8.
“A fire call came in and it was the Milford House that was on fire for the first time,” he said. “I showed up to the hall and all I heard was ‘Cran, you’re driving.’ I jumped behind the wheel. The adrenaline was pumping. This was my first big fire. I stayed with it all night long until about nine o’clock the next morning before I went home and went to bed.”
Later he moved to the Zodiac with the department’s water rescue unit, and on to everything else that was there to be learned.
“I wanted to make myself completely versatile on every piece of this hall that I could do,” he said. “When I joined up I never thought I’d make it as far as I did, do what I wanted to do, but I ended up taking a lieutenant’s position for a little while.”
That wasn’t really for him and he suspects he wasn’t ready for it.
“I still wanted to be a fireman. I still wanted to drive the trucks. I still wanted to be in the mix of it all,” he said. “But of course as the years go by, the older you get, I decided that it was probably time that maybe I should let these young guys start taking over.”
He stepped back a little bit and took a captain’s position, and after a number of years was a third deputy chief and stayed with that for almost five years. It was in that position he realized the weight of responsibility.
“I attended more meetings, and I attended more things with the chief, and I started helping the chief out with his business, making sure that whatever he asked of me – paper work, phoning somebody, going and looking at something – it was something that I did,” he said. “I was getting older and I felt myself getting more responsible.”
Is he ready to be chief? Cranton hopes he is. If there’s another job in volunteerism with more responsibility, it would be difficult to find. But he’s got his training, his firefighters, the gear, and community support.
He’s attended numerous fires, accidents, and medical response scenes too many to remember. He’s learned that fact is stranger than fiction, and don’t take anything for granted – like Milford House on fire again.
“I was back for the second round. I was actually the first truck out again,” he said. “All I can really remember is ‘this can’t happen again.’ But it did. That 19 kilometres felt like nineteen hundred that night. It was just unbelievable. You never thought you’d go back again.”