Veteran Sarnia firefighter named chief 

Incoming Sarnia Fire Chief Bryan Van Gaver, left, with outgoing Chief Brian Arnold. Photo Credit: Laurie Egan

Phil Egan

He arrived for a job interview with legendary Fire Chief Cliff Hansen one day in 1987.

A young, slim Bryan Van Gaver wanted to be a firefighter, but at only 145 pounds, was worried that he might not be hired. When he tried to look heavier and told Hansen that he weighed 150 pounds, Hansen looked skeptical – but hired him anyway.

Sarnia should be very glad that he did. Almost 34 years later, Deputy Chief Bryan Van Gaver is about to take command as chief at Sarnia Fire Rescue.

“He has given his entire adult life to the Fire Service and to the people of Sarnia,” Mayor Mike Bradley said of Van Gaver. “Bryan is a dedicated, personable leader who listens to people and who welcomes change and innovation. He will do an outstanding job carrying the torch of past fire chiefs.”

Van Gaver replaces a highly qualified and well-respected fire chief who is a man very much in demand. Current Chief Brian Arnold, who has served in the position for the past fifteen months, has been lured back to Cambridge, where he served four years as deputy chief. Arnold will step down on Oct. 21 to become fire chief in that city.

Chief Arnold says he loved his time in Sarnia and had planned to retire here, but was made an offer by Cambridge that he “couldn’t refuse” for the sake of his family.

Arnold praised the city’s management team as “forward thinking,” and said that he has enjoyed his collaboration with the petrochemical industry.

He emphasized the need for further training of local firefighters in industrial firefighting. He also lauded his collaboration with the Sarnia Professional Fire Fighters Association, with whom he worked closely on COVID-19 related issues.

Sarnia CAO Chris Carter cited the Chief’s contributions in developing a Master Fire Plan, modernizing the Establishing and Regulating Bylaw, implementing a strategic work plan, closing regulatory gaps in health and safety, as well as creating a pandemic plan.

Born and raised in Sarnia where he has lived all of his life, Bryan Van Gaver is Sarnia’s longest-serving firefighter. He has been Sarnia’s deputy chief for the past seven years.

This writer had the honour of meeting, interviewing (on multiple occasions) and getting to know Van Gaver while writing Walking through Fire: The History of Sarnia’s Bravest in 2017.

The early chapters of this 175-year history of the fire service relate several of the dramatic episodes during the late 1980s in which Van Gaver, then a young firefighter, was intimately involved.

As a long-time observer of the fire fraternity, I have always been impressed by, and an admirer of, the cool, confident, unflappable and inspiring demeanour of the deputy chief – despite his carrying a lifetime of work-related memories that might easily reduce a less capable man to a blubbering wreck.

Firefighting truly is a fraternity – one that Van Gaver clearly loves – and it is reflected in the affection and respect his colleagues have for him.

Currently immersed in budget preparation and transition planning, the future chief says he is also developing his own vision for the future of the fire service he loves.