Member Profile: Chief Tom Whipps
The first in an ongoing series profiling your LFR community volunteers
A shock of white hair, matching beard and a seemingly ceaseless supply of energy: even without his ubiquitous red “command” fire truck, there’s no mistaking Chief Tom Whipps.
Of course, being named “Citizen of the Year” tends to get one noticed, as does becoming a Rotary International “Paul Harris Fellow”, or earning the Medal of Merit for a dramatic rescue of a mother and daughter swept under a raging culvert. But for Whipps those awards are now decades old. What, then, explains an ongoing, unmistakeable presence in the community?
“My mother was such a civic-minded person, she was always involved with so many things and constantly telling me to mind my civic duties,” says the 35-year veteran of Lantzville Fire Rescue. “I learned to speak up, not in order to be obstructionist, but to be part of modelling the solution, to be involved.”
Whipps was already fulfilling that obligation as a member of the now defunct Lantzville Community Association when his view of community service was literally wrenched in a new direction. “I was following Fire Tanker #2 up Lantzville Road on my motorcycle when this wrench flies off towards me – boing, boing, boing. I turned around, picked it up, drove to the Hall, showed it to Chief Ron Dumont and said this thing could have killed me! He’d been after me to join so he challenged me to sign up and see if I could do a better job.”
On joining Whipps began learning to balance work life (a journeyman bodyman, he just ended a 30-year career at the RDN bus depot), with family life (he has two sons, Steven and Matt, with wife Joanne) with his passion for volunteering – including 19 years in Scouting, stints helping out with the Senior Games, running bingo at the Harewood seniors’ centre, helping build half a dozen playgrounds and, of course, working his way through the ranks at the Fire Hall.
That climb itself was notable for a momentary setback as a Captain when Whipps, never afraid to speak his mind, successfully championed the Hall’s first ever ban on smoking. The move went over so well with the membership he was subsequently voted out of his Captain’s slot, only to be reinstated once the grumbling ceased.
Since becoming Chief more than 12 years ago he’s worked tirelessly to bring change to the department – turning it into one of the most professional, best trained and best equipped Halls in the province. His achievements include everything from proper uniforms for members to much needed safety items like an exhaust system for the engine bays, a new compressor and fill station and modern fire engines, including the Hall’s first truly custom-made vehicle slated for delivery next year. Anticipating an environmental catastrophe he also had the Hall’s fuel pumps removed before they could leak into a nearby creek.
Saying there’s still more to be done, Whipps was recently voted in for another two-year term. While the shrill blaring of a pager still gets his adrenalin pumping, he says that rush has never really motivated him. “Emergencies are always someone else’s grief. They don’t provide much comfort except for the fact that maybe you can provide some help. For me it’s working in the community and being involved. It’s always about the people in the end.”