At 68, Hubbard was the longest serving contemporary member of the Russell Fire Department. Courtesy photo, Judi Hubbard

RUSSELL – Russell Fire Department has bid farewell to its longest serving contemporary member, Ron Hubbard, 68, who was schlepping hose with the best of them right up to Jan. 31.

Hubbard, who the department recognized for “tireless energy and enthusiasm,” spent 44 years on the job and actually drove the 1952 Maple Leaf pumper restored by the Russell Historic Society when it was still an active firefighting apparatus.

The accumulated years may actually make him the longest-serving in the history of the brigade and among the longest-serving volunteer firefighters in the province. He departed at the same time as two other members in very good standing, Rob Bryden with 20 years and Robert Taylor with 10 years of service.

Hubbard tumbled into the position literally by accident. As a 24-year-old, he attended an accident close to his home, which at the time, was on Craig Street. There he ran into fireman and neighbour Norm Inglis who was impressed that Hubbard was so quick on the scene. Inglis told his neighbour the fire department was recruiting, so he signed up.

In those days, most able-bodied men were accepted; these days, you have to be qualified and the Russell department goes over and above in making sure it has well-trained, knowledgeable members, Hubbard said. Hubbard prided himself in staying in shape and keeping up with the young bucks, convincing them he had their backs in any serious situation.

Asked why he didn’t go all the way to 45 years, Hubbard noted the age cut-off is 70 and now was a logical end point, given there’s another round of new technology coming in. While the department credits him with staying abreast of all the modern changes, including operation of the state-of-the-art pumper, the time had come.

As for most satisfying moments over his long career, he said being largely responsible for saving two lives had to rank first: “It goes part way in easing the pain of having other fire victims die in my arms.”

Hubbard came up in the ranks before high-tech dispatching, when there were seven fire phones in the homes of members, often operated by their wives, and a siren in the village core. In those days – and it still happens to some extent – entire families became involved.

A former Russell Township Volunteer of the Year, he’s credited with helping to launch and often drive the popular Santa Express, a fire truck which has carried the Jolly Old Elf and his sleigh through the streets of Russell on Christmas Eve for the past 40 years.

A past deputy chief, Hubbard’s dedication to the community was a gift not many could come close to matching, the department stated: “Many people can contribute money or other material goods; Ron gave the most precious gift we can give… time.”

While he has hung up the gear, Hubbard can’t guarantee he won’t chase the first fire alarm to follow his retirement out of pure habit: “I’ve been told that if I’m seen standing among spectators and they’re short-staffed, I’ll be deputized.”