A Lamont County firefighter has hit a historical milestone.
Robert Mitchell has been with the Lamont County Fire Department for over 70 years, 25,773 days of service, making him the longest-serving firefighter in Canadian history.
He surpassed the previous title holder, Walter Thomas, of the Fort Saskatchewan Fire Department.
Mitchell first joined the department in 1951 as one of the founding members. He explained there had been a big fire in Lamont but no fire department, so some members came together to create one. Mitchell was approached after they ordered their first fire truck.
"I was just a snot kid, but I knew all about trucks and pumps and power takeoffs and all that sort of stuff. So they asked me to join the fire department, and I said, 'well, I might as well.' I was just out of high school and undecided what to do."
He's always been a volunteer firefighter -- business was his career.
Since he first joined, the department has seen considerable growth, moving from a group of volunteers to a fully-fledged fire service today.
"This is an amazing achievement. We owe Bob a debt of gratitude for what has, quite literally, been a lifetime of public service to the Town of Lamont, Lamont County, and surrounding areas," said Shayne Milken, regional fire chief with Lamont County. "Bob remains active within the Lamont fire station to this day and still attends nearly every weekly training night."
Mitchell spoke of some of the most memorable moments with the department. He remembers the most significant accident he covered: a school bus getting hit by a train in 1960, where 17 students were killed. The biggest fire he attended was when the Lamont hospital caught fire in 1995.
He said it's been the other firefighters and the bonds he's formed with them that have made him want to continue being with the department for so long.
"The reason I'm on the fire department still is that it wasn't my choice; it was the fellow members [that] voted me to stay on because I was so close to hitting the 70-year mark," he laughed.
Now almost 90, he said he isn't sure how much longer he'll stay before retiring.