Gord Bentley was fighting fires in Mississauga long before there was a Mississauga, so the 50th anniversary of the department could be chalked up as just another milepost for him.

But it’s an important one. Bentley was there from the beginning as the local villages and hamlets that made up the southern part of Peel Region came together to form this town and with it, the fire department we know today. He’s experienced it all. Bentley played a major role, serving as fire chief from 1979 to 1991, a period of great growth in Mississauga. He also had to deal with the city’s biggest disaster.

“I started in 1951 in Streetsville and followed in my father’s footsteps who was a firefighter before,” explains Bentley. “So when Mississauga was created, I already had a lot of experience, all of us did.”

He, along with other former chiefs and those who have served in the department over the years, gathered recently for a public event to recognize the milestone anniversary of Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services. Held at the Gary W. Morden Centre on Ninth Line in the far northwest corner of the city, the celebration included an open house of the fire station as well as a number of firefighting demonstrations as well as presentations by city officials.

Back in 1968, fighting fires was the top priority and, that year, the department responded to 1,226 calls. That number steadily increased and so did the type of calls, which soon included medical emergencies. Bentley said the crews quickly had to adapt to new types of equipment and procedures to deal with a wide range of emergencies. Improvements attained through education, training and innovation brought the department into the modern era and Bentley is proud he was present to help usher them in.

“We quickly became leaders in the way we did things,” he said. “We had to because the city was growing so fast.”

Bentley was on the scene during Mississauga’s infamous train derailment in 1979. Almost 200,000 people were evacuated as firefighters battled a chemical spill, the resulting fires and explosions. The way it was handled was something all emergency personnel in the area could be proud of as it became a model for other jurisdictions to study.

Cyril Hare, who succeeded Bentley as chief until he left the post in 1999, pointed out growth has been continuous for the department and, as chief, he always tried to stay ahead of the curve. He continues to work as a fire-safety consultant.

Today, Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services responds to more than 31,000 calls yearly and the department does much more than fight fires and handle emergencies. Current chief Tim Beckett explained how prevention through training and education is a large part of the job and has proven effective in reducing casualties and property damage.

“Ultimately that is what we try to do, keep people safe,” said Beckett. “Any way we can do that achieves our goal.”

Photo: Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services celebrates 50 years of battling blazes with a celebration, held recently. Fire chiefs past and present attended the event. From the left are current chief Tim Beckett, Gord Bentley (1979-1991) Cyril Hare (1990-1999) and John McDougall (2008-2014).