Not many people can say their first day on the job was a literal garbage fire. Michael Dine could, though that’s not how he phrases it.
Dine started as fire chief for the City of Whitehorse on June 25, days after a blaze broke out at the Whitehorse city dump. It feels like a window into his personality that he chooses to see a silver lining in his job’s starting circumstances.
“You know, a lot of people were here and I had the opportunity to talk to them,” he told the News on June 28. “Everybody was working really hard and they were all here and you kind of get to see the best of them in that respect.”
Talking to his crew is a big part of what Dine wants to do in his first few weeks as fire chief. He replaces deputy fire chief Chris Green, who had been acting fire chief since Kevin Lyslo resigned in 2017.
Though Dine has 20 years experience as deputy fire chief on Pender Island, B.C., he said he’s looking to his 25 fire fighters in Whitehorse for cues on how to lead.
“This group, this team, they have operational people that are extremely skilled. They do not need somebody like me to come in and tell them how to do their job. What they seem to need is somebody to help them get the things to happen that they want to happen in this department so they can serve the community the way they want to,” he said, sitting in his office at the top of Two Mile Hill. He’s only partially moved in, with a handful of framed family photos and a big leather day planner he said is older than his administrator (“There’s already been some mocking and ridicule,” he says. “I’m low-tech.”).
“It is a process to feel out where your team and your crew wants you, where they need you. And that’s what I’m trying to do right now. Getting a finger on their pulse and what they think are the most important pieces and then try to help them actualize that.”
Dine hasn’t always worked as a fire fighter. Growing up in Ontario, he started out in hospitality. He ran Burlington’s Pepperwood Bistro for years before he and his wife moved to Pender Island. There, he said he was quickly recruited by the volunteer fire department because he was a relative youngster on an island largely populated by retirees. As soon as he started, he was hooked. It was all he wanted to do.
“It always sounds kinda cliché, you know, but honestly, compared to what I had been doing in my life and my career, it was very not only exciting, because of the nature of the work you do, but typically you’re helping somebody every time, so it’s pretty awesome,” he said.
Eventually, he said he decided he wanted to lead, though he hadn’t planned to do it in the Yukon.
“It’s a pretty dramatic change,” he said. “Not one that I totally expected to be doing.”
“It’s just a place in my life right now too where my (three) kids are gone away to school and stuff and my wife and I are able to take an adventure.”
Dine said he was drawn to the Yukon, partly because there’s a romance to the North. He’s a reader of Pierre Berton. He has a cedar strip canoe he can’t wait to bring up so he can go fishing after work. He likes the fact that Whitehorse is not only a city, but also a community. And he liked the department. He was looking forward specifically to work with one that had a solid reputation, which isn’t always easy to find.
“Departments are notoriously bad at promoting themselves,” he said. “Everything we do is confidential and one of those virtues that you find, I think, in the fire service is humility. So when you’re actually trying to find out what they do, you have to actually dig.”
When he did that digging, he said he found Whitehorse had a high level of technical ability, and an attractive talent pool. From there, it was a months-long process of interviews and tests before he found out he’d gotten the job.
He arrived in town on June 22 and said he’s already fielding texts from friends and family who want to know when they can come visit. Once he’s settled, Dine said he’ll be happy to host and help show off the Yukon to people who have their own ideas about what it’s like here.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org