News » Whistler

Familiar face hired as fire chief out of slate of candidates

Geoff Playfair to hit the ground running when he assumes new role this summer



Geoff Playfair has been chosen out 27 applicants for the top job at the Whistler Fire Rescue Services this summer, coming out of "retirement" to become Whistler's new fire chief.

Playfair, however, said he never really "retired" three years ago, when he left as assistant fire chief after a 30-year career.

He remained a paid on-call assistant chief these past three years and has also kept his hand in training other firefighters across Canada and internationally through the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

"It was more about choosing when to work, than going to work," he said of why he stepped away from the service in 2012. "It gave me the opportunity to pursue some other areas of interest."

But that all changed a few months ago when Whistler's Fire Chief Sheila Kirkwood announced she would be retiring after less than three years at the helm of the department.

"Sheila's announcement in the spring took me by surprise," added Playfair.

But it also got him thinking about how he could lead the team in Whistler and what he had to offer.

And so, he threw his hat in the ring, along with other internal applicants and some from further afield.

"There were many good applicants," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who was not involved in the hiring process.

She outlined Playfair's long career with the service, adding that she was "delighted" with the choice.

When asked if she was concerned about succession planning in the fire department, grooming up-and-coming firefighters to take on leadership roles, the mayor said: "No, I'm not. That is something that will have to be addressed by Geoff when he assumes his role as the new fire chief.

"This was a little bit of a bump in the road with Fire Chief Kirkwood retiring earlier than when we expected. So this is really quite a good transition from Kirkwood to Geoff Playfair, with the succession after him."

Playfair will hit the ground running when he begins on Aug. 24.

The Whistler Fire Rescue Service, which has 21 unionized firefighters, has been without a contract since the end of 2011.

The last wage increases included a 2.83-per-cent increase over the course of 2011 but nothing has been settled for 2012 onward.

Meetings are scheduled for September and Playfair will be getting briefed on the issues on both sides — the union and the municipality — and what his role may be in those negotiations.

The Fire Services Review, completed earlier this year, is also set to go public in the fall. It has a series of recommendations about the department moving forward.

Playfair also wants to continue to move forward with the FireSmart program, ensuring neighbourhood homes are protected from fires as much as possible, as well as the community fuel management program, ensuring Whistler keeps on top of its wildfire planning and protection.

His style, he said, is to provide the vision "underscored more by values than by rules" and "working to create more autonomy and responsibility in the membership."

In the meantime, Playfair has guided mountain biking trips and hiking trips on the books for the coming weeks at his cabin home-away-from home in the South Chilcotins, where he is a guide for Tyax Adventures.

There will be a change of command ceremony in Fire Hall #1 at the end of August to honour Chief Kirkwood's accomplishment and recognize the transition of Playfair into his new role.