PARIS – Historical circumstances in Ontario produced a fire service which – for much of its history — was overwhelmingly male, white and Christian.That is rapidly changing, says the chaplain of the Firefighters’ Association of Ontario, and fire services across the province would do well to acknowledge it.“We all know that — if we were down in a fire – we don’t care if the person who shares their oxygen and drags us out of there is male or female, religious or not religious,” Rev. Stephen Berryman, of St. John’s Anglican Church in Cambridge, said during the FFAO’s annual memorial service on Saturday.“We just need to know that they have the strength and the skills to save our lives and the lives of others. This is a first attempt at a revised memorial service. I would very much welcome your feedback.”Berryman —  a retired firefighter — was speaking to dozens of uniformed delegates at FFAO’s 118th annual convention. They were gathered for the memorial service at the cenotaph in downtown Paris.Berryman’s revised homily contained an acknowledgement that “incredibly competent women” are signing up as firefighters but that the status quo makes it difficult for them “to integrate into the culture.”Berryman also acknowledged that the annual memorial service he presides over uses a text that is not only Christian but specifically Anglican. Berryman told the several hundred in attendance that – from here forward — he intends to strive for the generic spirituality of military chaplains as chaplain of FFAO.“I’ve been wanting to do this for years,” Berryman said afterward. “I’ve just never got around to it. In the military, chaplains can’t show a bias. If you do, you are done.”Berryman asked for feedback and Brant County Mayor David Bailey was happy to provide it. He welcomed Berryman’s call to openness and diversity.“I’m the most diverse mayor ever,” Bailey said. “I’m openly gay and this was the first year Brant County flew the pride flag.“I’m excited about the direction the county is going. Not only is the county experiencing prosperity, but the face of the county is changing too.”A roll call of firefighters in Ontario who died in the past year was read from the podium. Among those mentioned was former Vittoria station chief Harold Stewart.Firefighting brothers Corey and Wade Cummerson, of Brant County, were noteworthy for carrying the Brant County chief’s helmet worn by their late brother Troy Cummerson, who died two years ago.Troy Cummerson is a reminder that firefighters take on unique risks when they roll out of bed in the middle of the night to save someone’s home and possibly their life. Cummerson died at age 48 of an esophageal cancer connected to repeated exposure to toxic situations.“We miss him,” Corey Cummerson said. “He was a great guy. He was well-loved by everybody and a book of knowledge. He impacted a lot of lives.”MSonnenberg@postmedia.com

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