Retired Prince Albert firefighter made chief for a day as part of 90th birthday surprise

Retired firefighter Arthur Peterson spent his 90th birthday at the Prince Albert Fire Department, where he continues to keep in touch with current members. – Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

Prince Albert’s Arthur Peterson never misses an opportunity for coffee and good conversation.

He’s been retired from the city’s fire department for 33 years. Every year on the anniversary of his start date – Aug. 23, 1956 – he joins current members for coffee. It’s also a regular meetup during the holidays, or whenever he just wants to relive the memories of the job.

They may be generations apart, but they share a unique connection.

“They make me part of the team. They sure include me in everything and that’s priceless,” said Peterson.

The Prince Albert Fire Department surprised Peterson for his 90th birthday on Tuesday.

Members picked up Peterson from his home in the morning and drove him back to the hall in the captain’s seat, wearing his old uniform.

They told him that the day was his – he was being made chief.

Of course, that meant a drive in the ladder truck to Smitty’s for his coffee group. When he returned to the hall, Peterson got geared up for some training, complete with a makeshift chief’s hat with his name on it.

Arthur Peterson puts on his gear before heading out for firefighter training as part of his 90th birthday surprise. – Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald

“We trained constantly and I know the young men are training now too, of course, but you can’t be trained for everything because there are no two calls alike,” he said.

“Firefighters are really a family. We live together, way back we used to put in a 56-hour week. Every third week I think it was we worked a 23-hour Sunday.”

Firefighters also attended a birthday party put on by Peterson’s family on Sunday.

“They made me speechless,” he said. “I feel pretty good and it’s amazing to achieve this number of years. I’ve been very fortunate.”

Prince Albert firefighters help retired member Arthur Peterson spray a hose on his 90th birthday. – Prince Albert Fire Department/Submitted

Chief Kris Olsen said Peterson retired shortly before he started at the fire department in the 1990s. Ever since, Peterson has been coming by for visits.

“Art has a special place in the department,” said Olsen.

“He had a long career, and it doesn’t matter what events we go to with Mr. Peterson, there will be retired members that served alongside him, there’s retired members that served under him and the common theme is there is a lot of respect for Mr. Peterson and the work he did here,” he added.

“He is a genuine individual that took interest in his staff as a leader and as a peer.”

Olsen said Peterson was a divisional chief, a position that no longer exists in Prince Albert.

Peterson will often speak with current members about how the job has changed, such as the new technology and equipment used to fight fires.

He’s an avid listener, said Olsen, who’s always willing to talk about the highs and lows of firefighting.

“He will always interject with some wisdom, go back to maybe a past circumstance.”

Olsen said it was an honour and well deserved to be replaced by Peterson for the day.

Arthur Peterson (front, centre) is pictured in this newspaper clipping from February 1980 as part of an article on a provincial firefighters curling championship. – Prince Albert Daily Herald/Archives

Looking back on his career, Peterson said he wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, while sipping on his coffee, he’ll see a fire truck go by and wish he were on it.

“I jokingly say that if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’m coming back, and I’ve already got my chair picked out,” he said with a laugh.

“If I had a chance to do it over, I would in a heartbeat.”