'A spicy lady': Kamloops fire department celebrates oldest team member | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'A spicy lady': Kamloops fire department celebrates oldest team member

Marilynn St. Jean has been an administrative officer with Kamloops Fire Rescue for 35 years.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Kamloops Fire Rescue

A beloved senior in Kamloops is being celebrated for her impressive 35 years of service as an administrator at Kamloops Fire Rescue.

For over three decades, Marilynn St. Jean has been at the heart of the fire department, working to swiftly fill administrative needs in times of crisis, and supporting emergency staff from the fire chief to the firefighters.

“She's so knowledgeable, she runs that office and will go out of her way to show you how to do something, in my opinion she is the Commander in Chief,” said former fire prevention officer secretary Patricia Brewer. 

Since starting the job in 1989, St. Jean adapted to an expanding firefighting force as the city doubled its size, trouble-shot her way through ever advancing technology and kept up with increasing safety systems.

She has been at the centre of joyous times and difficult times in the department, which she calls her family.

“A lot of us at Kamloops Fire Rescue refer to her as mom of the department,” said fire safety educator Jeff Pont. “She's one of the kindest, sweetest, happiest people we’ve had the pleasure of working with.

“She’s a spicy lady and she deserves to be after being her for 35 years."

Originally from McBride, St. Jean moved to Kamloops when her husband relocated for work on the railroad. With a background in administration, she stepped into the station as a temporary replacement for someone on sick leave and never left.

“I can remember vividly the first week I started,” St. Jean said. “They have different crews rotating, a lot of new faces and once I got one crew memorized the next day a new one would show. I said to my husband, I can’t memorize all of these names.”

There weren't computers at that time and eventually she had the challenge of learning new technology.

“Technology was a big hurdle, it was a big change and learn as you go,” she said. “If one button didn’t work you pushed another button and just hoped you didn’t lose everything on your screen.

“The safety equipment has changed a lot, the technology of the equipment they have now compared to then is mind blowing and the safety requirements are so much more as they’ve learned how harmful some items are to firefighters.”

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St. Jean said some of the biggest changes in safety have happened in the recent years.

“There is a mental health aspect to manage and changes in what the firefighters' jobs entail. There is an increase in what firefighters do in this municipality, what they’ve taken on in terms of the first responding aspect of their job.”

Being at the centre of an emergency team dealing with difficult crises on a daily basis can’t be easy. The toughest work years in her memory occurred during big wildfire seasons, but she said every year there is a lot to manage. 

“You rely on what you’ve experienced in your personal life to help the guys deal with it,” St. Jean said. “My desk is a safe place for people to come and talk and not worry about judgement.”

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St. Jean remembers years of good times and special occasions with the department.

“Special memories are of the events the department comes together as a group with uniforms on for a celebration of a joyous event or a celebration of life for one of the members. I’ve been lucky to be a part of births and weddings.”

Over her 35 years, St. Jean has watched the children of the department members grow up.

“I’ve watched kids that have come in here for hall tours in kindergarten that are now adults coming in here for burning permits, it’s neat,” she said. “The whole department is a family, their families become part of mine, their children come and visit me, stopping to stay hello.”

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When asked if she plans to retire soon, St. Jean said no.

“The job is still enjoyable to me, I enjoy the people and seeing the direction the department is moving in, I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.”

For Administrative Professional Day, St. Jean is getting well wishes and notes of gratitude for her service from the department and beyond.

“I’m getting spoiled, everyone is wishing me a great day.”

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Andy Philpot is a volunteer with St. John Ambulance and a former assistant fire chief in Kamloops.

“She’s the type of person you talk to when you really want to find out what’s going on,” he said. “She has a good sense of humour and doesn’t get caught up in office politics, she says her two bits worth in and disappears behind her computer screen again.

“Congratulations and well done to her.”

— This article was updated at 2:40p.m. Thursday, April 25, 2024 to correct in error in St. Jean's start date. 

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