Half a century seems like a long time to do anything – let alone an intense, demanding day job. But time flies when you’re having fun. This summer, Paul Rizzoli marked his 50th year of firefighting – and he shows no sign of slowing down.
Paul’s career started the second week of May in 1964. The Beatles were big, Dr. Strangelove had just left theatres, and Paul Rizzoli was a bright-eyed 22 year old, eager to help build the Beaver Lake Ranger Station in the Lac La Biche Forest. During his first summer employed with the ministry, he travelled throughout the area repairing and maintaining towers.
Paul went on to become one of the first firefighters trained as part of the para cargo program, delivering supplies and groceries to firefighters on the ground. The planes used to transport the cargo flew with one door open, which required staff to have parachute training – hence, the name. The para cargo program originally began in the winter of 1945 – but it didn’t really get off the ground until 1970 due to lack of facilities and aircraft. In 1973, Paul was one of the first firefighters to get his drop master and parachutist qualifications.
The program was discontinued when the province began using helicopters to deliver supplies instead. By then, Paul was already revolutionizing other aspects of wildland firefighting – including pioneering the province’s air attack program. The program began before Rizzoli came on. The first Alberta Forest Service aircraft fleet was purchased in 1957. The first Birddog Officer training course, an airborne position responsible for the coordination of aerial and ground firefighting resources, was held in 1967 and Rizzoli once again pioneered a ground-breaking program with the ministry.
He has faced lots of tight spots – and has seen plenty of change – during his time as a firefighter. According to him, though, the best part has stayed the same: it’s the people he’s worked with. “We were friends first, sometimes even a lot like family.” he says. “It was easy to face such a good group of people every day.”
Here’s to many more years, Paul – thanks for all you’ve done so far.