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After 42 years, Bighorn fire chief ready to retire

“We had rubber boots that folded up your leg and we had black canvas jackets that went to your knees and fiberglass helmets. It wouldn’t meet today’s standards by any stretch.”
MD Bighorn

MD OF BIGHORN – It was a very different firefighting world when Rick Lyster went out on his first fire call on May 10, 1980.

Now, on June 1, 2022, he will officially retire from the Municipal District of Bighorn fire department.

His original decision to join the Exshaw volunteer fire department at the time was simply because so many of his friends were already serving.

“You have to look back 40 years to see what things were like in Exshaw. There was not a lot to do. I was working at the plant and had just been married,” Lyster said. “A lot of my co-workers were also living in Exshaw and working at the plant and they would talk about their fire calls. I wanted to go and play with my friends.”

In 1994, Lyster would become the chief of the fire department, a role he has held ever since, even as his duties have expanded to include bylaw enforcement. Lyster also serves as the community peace officer, safety codes officer and director of emergency management.

The next chief will have a lighter workload, allowing the individual to focus on the fire department. The chief’s primary responsibilities will be emergency management and serving as the fire chief.

“I was so busy I was not able to put the attention I wanted to into some things,” Lyster said. “It is a really good step for the MD of Bighorn to take. The chief won’t have to be a peace officer, or deal with bylaws and bylaw enforcement.”

Over the past four decades, Lyster has seen the fire department change in many ways, but nothing has changed more than the technology used. When Lyster started with the department, the trucks were from the 1950s and 1960s.

“When you went out on a fire, you were on the tailboard riding the back of the truck, the outside of the truck, hanging on for dear life,” Lyster said.

CB radios were the primary form of communication and how calls were received at the time and residents played a much more active role in fighting fires.

“I think you just called 0 and talked to an AGT operator and told them what the issue was and then they called the Exshaw fire department,” Lyster said. “That was answered by people who had fire phones in their homes, and they pushed a button and let a big air raid siren go. We kept that system for quite a while.”

Eventually, pagers came into use, and then cell phones. Today, computers play a much bigger role in how the department operates. The trucks are also much more modern.

“Our trucks are very current, very new, the latest technology that is available there,” Lyster said.

The biggest change during the past 40 years was in the personal protective equipment the firefighters use.

“We had rubber boots that folded up your leg and we had black canvas jackets that went to your knees and fibreglass helmets,” Lyster said. “It wouldn’t meet today’s standards by any stretch.”

After his last day on June 1, Lyster will be taking a three-week road trip with his family. Possibly later, he will be moving to the Drumheller area to be closer to family.

At his last council meeting, where he spoke regarding the new protective services position, there was high praise for his years of service.

“I can’t even imagine, 42 years, I am 40 years old. You were doing this job before I was even a twinkle in my parent’s eye,” MD reeve Lisa Rosvold said. “I can’t express my gratitude for all you have done for the residents and ratepayers of the MD of Bighorn.”