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Longtime Surrey firefighter Lorne West honoured

Lorne West (left) with Surrey Fire Fighters’ Association Local 1271 President Mike McNamara.   -
Lorne West (left) with Surrey Fire Fighters’ Association Local 1271 President Mike McNamara.
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Surrey firefighters celebrated their 55th anniversary July 5 with their annual barbecue, peer awards and retirement recognition evening.

Firefighter peers were recognized for the contributions to their association and charitable work they do in the community. This year the group recognized an individual who is retiring this month after serving 35 years – 25 of those years as an executive officer of the I.A.F.F. Local 1271 Surrey Fire Fighters’ Association.

The Surrey Fire Fighters Axe Award goes to a member with a minimum of 10 years of service who has shown a dedicated and conscientious effort to uphold the standard of professionalism, reflects credit upon Local 1271 on and off duty, and promotes goodwill among union brothers and sisters. They will have been contributing to the betterment of all Local 1271 members for a majority of their service.

This year the “Axe Award” was renamed after Lorne West, becoming the “Lorne West Silver Axe Award” in recognition of West's many years of leadership, dedication, and mentorship.

“Lorne West exemplifies what leadership is about," said  Surrey Fire Fighter' Association President Mike McNamara. "His dedication to local 1271 for 25 years will be unmatched and stand as a mark that sets the high bar for leadership. Lorne definitely made a positive contribution for his 25 years as a local leader and left the local a better place than it was when he started. We felt it was necessary to remember his service and honour him by attaching his name to our peer awards.”

Only two firefighters have their name attached to the most prestigious awards, The Red Powell Award and now the Lorne West Silver Axe Award.

In 2007, West received The Red Powell Award. The recipient of this award should exemplify that of a conscientious and dedicated firefighter on duty and off duty. They also uphold the standards of our profession and reflect credit upon local 1271. They promote goodwill among union brothers and sisters. The Red Powell recipient should have been a member of Local 1271 for 20 years or more.They will have contributed to not only the betterment of all Local 1271 members but also the people in the community.

Lorne West’s legacy with the Surrey Fire Fighters' Association:

West started on the local executive in his second year as a fire fighter. He held vice-president and secretary positions over a period of 12 years before being elected as president in 1991 and holding that position until 2004.

During his tenure, West completely rewrote the local constitution and bylaws as well as developed the first policy manual for local 1271, which stands as the guiding document for governance of the local today.

Under West's leadership he brought forward a business model to make the local accountable in a financial manner, including budgets, forecasting at the same time moving to an electronic era. Putting the finances in great shape allowed the purchase of the union hall to hold meeting and social functions in.

During his time as Local 1271 president, West negotiated many trend-setting collective agreements, each building upon the previous to establish the best collective agreement in our region. He was instrumental in establishing a coordinated regional bargaining effort between the other locals in the province. He was the first to negotiate the 15-year rate of pay on the region, and managed to negotiate the highest rate of pay for local 1271 members, despite a regional pattern already being established.

West always placed firefighter safety at the forefront of his efforts. He was relentless in his pursuit to convince the politicians and decision-makers that it is essential to have four firefighters on every first line aerial or engine. This was done though the constant political pressure to open new fire halls in strategic areas in a city with exponential growth.

West's proactive vision on human rights issues – whether it was the hiring of women in the fire service, drug and alcohol programs, an employee assistance program, or critical incident stress programs, to name a few – were instituted before management even had a concept of what to do.

Under West's leadership Surrey firefighters went from one boot drive a year to raising hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. The charitable society went from obscurity to one of the largest charitable agencies in the city. Programs such as a nutritional snack program that provides breakfast for youth in 80 Surrey schools and the dedication of $1 million to mental health and addiction issues in the city are just two examples.

West has made a positive contribution during his 25 years as a local leader and left the union a better place than it was when he started.

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