For 55 years, Helmuth Ritter has served as a firefighter with the Fort Saskatchewan Fire Department.

Ritter was doing construction work around the Stony Plain area when his wife got a job at the local hospital in 1966. They moved to Fort Saskatchewan, and some people he met in their apartment complex convinced him to join the department.

In the last five decades, firefighting has changed drastically. Ritter remembers having a siren at the fire hall and a phone in his house, which is how he would get calls to go to fires. 

They would train together every Tuesday night in the department's early days. A lot of the equipment firefighters use nowadays wasn't available, like the breathing apparatuses and the jaws of life.

"All the new equipment, safety concerns, better communications, we didn't have all that. When I started there, all we had was a bunker coat and a helmet and boots."

When Ritter first became a firefighter, Fort Saskatchewan's population was around 4,000. The department now has a much bigger area to look after, though they have more staff as well.

Some of Ritter's fondest memories over the last 55 years were the Fireman Balls the department used to hold every year. They still hold something similar, but it is called awards night. 

"We went swimming, bowling; we had barbecues," he explained. "We used to have a party every year before Christmas, and we set off the fireworks in their early years."

He remembers having competitions with other fire departments and getting the chance to meet different people through them.

Overall, what has been the most special to him are the people he has gotten to spend time with.

One of his most treasured memories was when the station was named after Walter Thomas, the longest-running firefighter in Fort Saskatchewan and Canada, as well as a friend to Ritter. Thomas passed away in 2017 at 95 years old.

In 2017, city council announced the second fire hall (which is still in the works) would be named after Ritter. 

To celebrate his 55 years of service, members had a small ceremony at the station. They had to keep it small because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Ritter is still serving the department as a deputy chief and plans to stay there as long as he is able to.