First Responders Way named in Pembroke

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Pembroke Fire Chief Scott Selle, third from left, and Paramedic Chief Mike Nolan, unveil the First Responders Way sign. Looking on at left are Mayor Ron Gervais and Colonel Jason Guiney, from Garrison Petawawa, and UOV Detachment Commander Steph Neufeld is at right.

Pembroke – “They have our backs!”

That statement made last Wednesday by Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski at a ceremony honouring first responders profoundly summed up the importance of these brave and dedicated men and women to the population of Renfrew County.

He made the statement at the official unveiling ceremony of the new street sign renaming the former Fred Blackstein Boulevard to First Responders Way at Riverside Park.

Administration and staff from the County of Renfrew Paramedic Service, local fire departments, the Ontario Provincial Police and Garrison Petawawa attended the ceremony celebrating the renaming of the street enacted by the City of Pembroke council to coincide with First Responders Day in the province May 1.   

First responders were joined by members of the public and local dignitaries. Pembroke’s Royal Canadian Legion Band entertained prior to the official ceremonies.

Fred Blackstein, who had suggested the renaming of the street to Pembroke council, emceed the event.

Pembroke’s Town Crier, Rev. Dave Henderson, got things rolling with his attention-grabbing announcement of the city’s proclamation.

“We gather this day to celebrate the vital role played in the great city of Pembroke, throughout the great County of Renfrew, and indeed, in communities and provinces here in Canada and around the world,” he began.

He noted how in December 2013, the late monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, with the consent of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, enacted legislation proclaiming May 1st as First Responders Day in Ontario.

“On this day, Mayor Ronald Gervais, and the corporation of the council of the City of Pembroke, hereby proclaim this as First Responders Day in the City of Pembroke,” he announced to applause. “First responders are those men and women responsible for the protection, preservation of life, property and the environment.

“Within their ranks are police officers, firefighters, military personnel, paramedics, dispatchers, nurses, doctors and emergency managers.”

He quoted the great American statesman Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The mark of any great society is how it treats its weakest and vulnerable members”.

“First responders are a cornerstone of how we measure our country’s caring, compassion and our determination to ensure the safety and security of all citizens, regardless of their position or their station,” he stated. “First responders, both volunteers and professional, are those brave and caring individuals who have dedicated their lives to public service.”

He stressed it is the talents, skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom of the first responders that often mean the difference between life and death.

“Today, we celebrate their courage, their dedication and the commitment to helping their fellow citizens that are the hallmarks of their service. It is with humility and gratitude that we dedicate the renaming of this street in their honour.”

Mr. Blackstein noted while the ceremony involved almost exclusively professional first responders, he acknowledged the mother of a volunteer first responder who lost his life while trying to save a snowmobiler who had crashed through the ice in January 1992.

“That person did survive,” he noted. “Eilleen Andrews, mother of the late Steve Andrews, has come to join us.”  

Pembroke’s Town Crier, Rev. Dave Henderson, proclaimed the former Fred Blackstein Boulevard as First Responders’ Way at the ceremony last Wednesday.

Mayor Grateful

Mayor Ron Gervais posed two poignant questions to begin his address

“What would our society be like without first responders, without our military, doctors, nurses, support staff, paramedics, firefighters, police? Without them, where would we be?”

He noted how society recently navigated a very difficult time in the history of humankind, addressing everything that COVID inflicted.

“Who enabled us, as a society to persevere, was our first responders, and for this we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Mayor Gervais said the Ontario government recently announced a program to provide free counselling to family members of first responders, who died in the line of duty or through suicide.

“While the Ontario government has clearly recognized the importance and significance of first responders and their families, the question becomes, what can the City of Pembroke do? Hence, we come today to the significant renaming of a prominent street.

“What greater tribute to our first responders than for Pembroke City council to rename this street as First Responders Way,” he added. “I declare, Fred Blackstein’s enormous effort will not go unnoticed and unrecognized.” 

Mayor Gervais said the Fred Blackstein Boulevard will be relocated at a strategic location to recognize his contributions to the city.         

“However, we the representatives of the City of Pembroke recognize and acknowledge the significant sacrifices of the first responders and give tribute to them. To formalize the renaming of this prominent street and to publicly recognize all first responders, in the greatest place possible, Pembroke City Council passed Bylaw 3024-14 to name this street effective today.”

MPP Honoured To Participate

MPP John Yakabuski thanked the city for its initiative in renaming the street, saying that while the government opened the door by naming May 1st First Responders Day, it is up to each and every municipality to find ways to honour these individuals in their own communities.

“It is a wonderful tribute to people who do so much for us,” he said.

 He noted Mayor Gervais’ comments about the importance of first responders could not be understated.

“And largely, in the eyes of many people, their work goes unnoticed most of the time, ” he pointed out. “But it’s when we need them that we are so grateful that they are there.

“We drive up and down those roads and we see the ambulances, we see the fire trucks we see the police cars, we see our military, “he added. “They’re not coming for me, so I’m not really certain what they’re up to, but I do know this: they’re out there helping some of us, maybe one of you, maybe me someday. They make us feel safer, they make it easier for us to live the lives we live because we know they have our backs. When we need them, they will be there.”

He encouraged everyone when they encounter a first responder to simply thank them for the service they provide.

“We are so dependent on them and grateful for their service,” he remarked.

Kudos To Mr. Blackstein

UOV detachment commander, Steph Neufeld, left presented Fred Blackstein with the OPP’s Value’s Coin. Mr. Blackstein unselfishly suggested the city rename Fred Blackstein Boulevard as First Responders Way.

The ceremony moved from the amphitheatre to the street where the sign was being unveiled with representatives of the various first responders participating in the ceremony.

County of Renfrew Director of Emergency Services, Chief Paramedic Mike Nolan thanked the City for the ceremony and for recognizing the important role paramedics and other first responders play on a day to-day basis. He noted as Mr. Yakabuski said, their actions often happen in the shadows or in the middle of the night.

“It often happens in a way that allows the paramedics to give their best to the community knowing there in so 912 or 913. People don’t have a choice, when they call 911 they put all of their trust in those that have been appointed the responsibility of caring for their individuals.”

He noted the service continues to diversify to meet the ever-changing challenges through new programs like the Mesa outreach which addresses homelessness and addiction.       

“To Fred (Mr. Blackstein) I can’t say enough. He has been an incredible mentor to me personally in my time in this role, which is now over 20 years.

He said he supported the creation of the Sierra Team with his extensive experience and expertise. in search and rescue procedures.

“And I can’t think of a greater honour than for someone actually giving their name up. If Fred could, he’d give us the Honour of Canada today too, and he’s only got one of those pins.

“And he’s only had one street named after him and his selflessness, his commitment to this community, and all the reasons that Fred is a member of the Order of Canada, and one of the most outstanding people I have ever met in my career. Fred, thank you.”    

Pembroke Fire Chief Scott Selle described the ceremony as overwhelming.

“To be honoured by a man who has accomplished as much as Fred has is truly an honour. It really touches my heart to see the dedication he has to this community and the steps he is going to take to ensure everybody is recognized and supported in so many ways, not only with the street but the wonderful fountain he unveiled last summer.”

“This is really overwhelming to see the support the community has for us,” he continued. “And I want you to know this helps us, this encourages us, and makes us want to be better and bring you 100 per cent every day when we show up for duty.”

Upper Ottawa Valley OPP Detachment Commander Steph Neufeld was humbled to be present for the renaming. He noted when young recruits are signed up to the force, they are provided with a list of OPP values they are expected to adhere to.

“Among them, pride, integrity and courage, and these are all values that Fred has demonstrated to the community and to us and certainly during my tenure as detachment commander the last seven years. It is a privilege and honour to be here to pay my respects to you and thank you very much for this very generous gift.”  

Inspector Neufeld presented Mr. Blackstein with a Values Coin which instilled all the values he previously mentioned.

Colonel Guiney of Garrison Petawawa also said it was an honour and privilege to attend.

“I’d maybe like to offer a thank you for not just what you do, but equally to thank you for who you are.,” he told first responders. “Because it takes someone of a remarkable character to put themselves deliberately into harm’s way.

“And we in the military travel in big packs and we tend to get a lot of notice to move before we go somewhere,” he added. “But you’re reacting to a phone call, often to someone on the other end who is in distress, who is confused, who is in danger, who’s got a serious health condition themselves or a loved one. And it takes somebody of remarkable character to put themselves into those positions, to bring calm into chaos, to bring healing into pain, and that goes to say a lot about who you are.”     

He noted the majority of the first responders could not attend the ceremony as they are always on duty, so he publicly thanked them for what they do and who they are.

First responders and local dignitaries participated in the unveiling ceremony last Wednesday. From left, Col. Jason Guiney, Garrison Petawawa, County of Renfrew Paramedic Chief Mike Nolan, UOV detachment commander Steph Neufeld, Fred Blackstein, emcee, Pembroke Fire Chief Scott Selle, Pembroke Mayor Ron Gervais, Warden Peter Emon, and Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski.