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Man who loved fire trucks as a boy now replacing County’s retiring chief

Prince Edward County Fire Chief Scott Manlow, left, is retiring as the amalgamated municipality’s second chief on June 30. Deputy Chief Robert Rutter takes over July 1, 2020. The new deputy chief has not yet been named. – Sue Capon photo

By Sue Capon
When the air raid sirens blared to warn there was a fire in progress, young Robert Rutter and his friends hopped on their bicycles to race down to the fire hall in Bloomfield to watch the volunteers leap into action.

On July 1, 2020, Rutter will lead Prince Edward County’s volunteers as the department’s new fire chief, following the retirement of current chief Scott Manlow.

Both men were born and raised in the County, and both answered the call to serve as volunteers more than 30 years ago.

In 1969, when the military closed its fire station at Camp Picton on Prince Edward Heights, the trucks ended up at the new Bloomfield-Hallowell fire station downtown Bloomfield (at the parking lot east of the Post Office).

For the official opening of the new fire hall in 1969, the Bloomfield Hallowell volunteer department proudly showed off its trucks. – Ken Fisher photo in the book “Bloomfield The Story of a Village’.

“I was absolutely blown away with fire trucks,” said Rutter, who grew up on Duncan Street, just off Bloomfield Main. “Henry Leavens was a volunteer on the fire department. I used to pick potatoes for him, and whenever the air siren went off and he was combining back in the fields, I would ride my bike back and wave at him ‘Henry, Henry, you’ve got a fire’ and he’d get off his tractor and go into town.”

There were no pagers then, and no high-tech 9-1-1 system firefighters rely on today.

A young Scott Manlow also came to know the world of firefighting as his father Bill was a volunteer in Picton. As a child, he often accompanied his Dad to calls, but had to wait in the truck.

“When I got old enough, I could help clean up the hoses at the end of the night,” he said.

Manlow didn’t join the fire department as a volunteer until he was 30-years-old. Ironically, he tried to get on at the fire department in Rossmore but wasn’t selected, as he didn’t live near where he wanted to volunteer, as those rules were applied then.

Manlow was pursing a career as a mechanic, then went on to work in the manufacturing world, but found those jobs were not for him.

“I had moved on to Belleville to start my own life, then moved back to Picton in 1988 and got on as a volunteer; went to full-time in 1989 on the truck and in 2004 became deputy chief, then fire chief in 2006, replacing George Pettingill when he retired.”

As he prepares to retire June 30, he looks back on almost 33 years of service with the satisfaction of a fulfilling career made possible with support from his family at home, and at the department.

“I remember going to my first marsh fire on Big Island. I couldn’t grasp the noise, the sound. It was the roaring of fire across the bullrushes – it was deafening.”

Marsh fire at Big Island. – Terry Sprague photo

Manlow was the new chief, and as a good leader, relied on the expertise of those who had gone before him.

“The firefighters there had fought marsh fires before and could say ‘this is what we’ve got to do’. You have to rely on your members. I did, and the next one I went to was not as scary.”

During a large fire at the Massassaga marsh off Highway 62 at Fenwood Gardens, firefighters’ concerns involved people’s homes nearby. The chief called for assistance from firefighters in Quinte West and Belleville to battle the relentless blaze.

Massassaga marsh fire at Fenwood Gardens. – Briar Boyce photo

“We had to worry that the fire didn’t get to the houses because the embers got going so high and the conditions were very dry. Houses were the concern here,” said Manlow. “At the marsh fires at Big Island, and in Demorestville, you worry about the big barns and horse barns. Firefighters are staged to keep watch on sparks and keep them down from whatever way the wind is blowing.”

Fierce wind is also behind one of the most memorable fires for the incoming chief.

“Last fall we got a call to a fire in Ameliasburgh and half way there, our captain on the scene reports we have two fully-involved house fires, with a fully-involved vehicle in between them,” Rutter recalls. “We had the aerial truck on its way, but a forceful south-east wind was driving that fire.

The aerial truck on scene at a two home blaze in Ameliasburgh in October 2016. – Sue Capon photo

“The second house had a double roof on it and fire was coming out of the eves at the other end. Beside the garage was a great big, old cedar tree hanging over the roof. The firefighters got a hose on it and kept it down until the aerial truck got in and pushed the fire back.”

Rutter had concerned eyes on a third house that could ignite, along with possible explosions from the gas tank on the car, and nearby propane tanks.

He too credits the experience and training of the firefighters on scene, and all the County’s 144 volunteers and five full-time firefighters.

“They were prepared for it and all their training comes into play,” he said. “The firefighters are truly the backbone of the department.”

Rutter first joined as a volunteer 37 years ago in Wellington. He says he was attracted to the community spirit, participating in community events, and going down to the fire hall on Sundays to wash the fire trucks. He was soon training officer, then captain at the Wellington station and became the PEC Deputy Chief in 2006.

As he prepares to officially become chief on Canada Day, he is continuing his work to expand an ‘Answer the Call’ campaign to recruit volunteers.

“Volunteers are always needed,” he confirms. “It’s a continual need. We lose approximately 10 per cent of our force every year due to retirements, job re-locations and some times, family just has to take more precedence.”

Family support is key for all firefighters.

“As anybody involved in this world knows, your spouse fights as many fires as you do. They go through the trials and tribulations, and emotions, and you need somebody to help you debrief,” said Manlow. “None of this would have been possible without the support of the family.”

Rutter also praises the important and constant support from his wife Christine and their three sons.

“The firefighting dream started here,” he laughed, noting his dad or grandather didn’t serve, but his middle son, Ryan, is with the Belleville rural fire service as a fire prevention officer. Last week Robert and Christine welcomed a fourth grandson. They also have one granddaughter.

After 14 years as Deputy Chief, he’s looking foward to the challenge of being Prince Edward County’s third fire chief. (Before amalgamation, there was a chief at each department). The new deputy chief has not yet been named.

Manlow is looking foward to relaxing with his wife Debbie, though says he’s not one to just sit out on the back deck.

“It’s something we’ve planned for. We’ve got two kids and three grands and our daughter is due in July. I’ve got my health; love and support of my family. I’ll stay out of the garden, and just cut the grass, work around the house, maybe cycle and paddleboard and we’ll go for walks.”

“I’ve always said I wanted to retire while still loving my job.”

Over his years, Manlow and Rutter have worked together through the building of the new Picton and Consecon fire stations, and on better equipment, response times and training.

“It’s all about the fire department,” said Manlow. “I am just a member who had the job as chief. Things only move forward with many hands and this group of dedicated, passionate individuals are who bring a multitude of skills to make the department as great as it is.”

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