Nelson Mayor John Dooley (left) stands with Chief Jeff Hebert, in front of Nelson Fire and Rescue. Photo: Nelson Fire and Rescue

Nelson Mayor John Dooley (left) stands with Chief Jeff Hebert, in front of Nelson Fire and Rescue. Photo: Nelson Fire and Rescue

Nelson’s new fire chief aims to ensure department is first class

Jeff Hebert was named Nelson’s new chief on June 7

Jeff Hebert always knew he wanted his career to involve helping people in the community where he has spent his life, but he didn’t foresee taking the top role as Nelson’s fire chief.

Hebert was promoted to fire chief and director of emergency management on June 7, replacing Len MacCharles, who retired in May after serving in the role since 2014.

“It feels really good,” Hebert said Monday, after a few weeks in the new role. “It’s interesting, it’s new and it’s exciting.”

Hebert joined Nelson Fire and Rescue in 1999, at the age of 22, as an auxiliary firefighter – slowly moving up the ranks. He was hired full-time in 2001. By 2011 he had moved to captain, before going on toassistant chief in 2020. Along his career, he also became a husband and was promoted to “dad” of two sons, ages 12 and 15.

The Nelson local holds certificates in fire investigations, hazmat, and fire service instructor. He’s helped design three fire trucks. Now, he has his eyes set on ensuring Nelson remains a first-class fire department.

“One of my main priorities is to review how we operate and make sure that we are still providing the value and the service to the community that we believe we are,” he said.

Hebert said the most challenging element of the role so far is its busy-ness: “getting brought up to speed on some of the projects I wasn’t involved in when I was the assistant chief.”

Currently, the department is dealing with a late spring freshet and keeping a close eye on stream flows and lake levels, in case the crew needs to jump on any flood-prevention work.

Working in a fire hall is different every day

As modern-day firefighting puts a heavy focus on wildfire and fire prevention, many projects on the go include mitigation, resiliency, preparedness and maintaining the local FireSmart program.

Hebert said he wants to “make sure if Nelson is impacted by a wildfire that we’re prepared and ready to lessen those impacts and strengthen the municipality so we can bounce back.”

While prevention efforts have led to a successful reduction in fire-related calls, it also means fire crews are able to assist with other 911 calls.

After 20 years on the front lines, while some aspects of the job has surely changed, Hebert said working in a fire hall still remains unpredictable each day.

“I’ve had some pretty amazing calls and some pretty horrific calls,” Hebert said. “A lot of the bad calls I don’t really dwell on and the good calls I do. When you save a life there’s not a better day in your life, when you bring somebody back.”

Little wins make it easier to operate as a fire hall.

Hebert said he’s never thought of going into any other profession and has always strived to help fellow community members on their worst days.

“It’s important to make that positive change in somebody else’s life.”

As he gets acquainted with his new role, Hebert said he’s taking with him all the leadership lessons and mentorship he gained from MacCharles.

When he’s not at the station Hebert can be found in the Kootenay wilderness – fishing, camping and hiking – or at his shop restoring vehicles.