A Life's Story
October 27, 2018
Firefighter provided guidance and comfort during emergencies
By: Carol Sanders
When disaster struck, Paul Guyader was your guy.
The friendly firefighter — whose natural leadership ability led him to become Winnipeg’s deputy fire chief, and later a director at Manitoba’s Emergency Measures Organization — was the person in charge during fires and floods who helped folks cope.
"When people are in crisis, they want to be heard, they don’t want to be told," said friend and colleague Shelley Napier.
Guyader died March 10 at 63 from a sudden illness.
"He always listened, which is a dying art," Napier said. "He made people feel like they mattered."
One occasion in 2011 stands out, she recalled, when Manitoba faced a one-in-300-years flood. Above-average precipitation in western Manitoba and Saskatchewan overwhelmed the Assiniboine River. Guyader was the government’s point man at a meeting with members of communities that would be hit hardest.
"We had to deliver the news of how severe the flood was going to be," said Napier, who retired from the EMO in 2017. "He got yelled at and bore the brunt of peoples’ anger because he was ‘government.’ He was calm, and answered questions. He wasn’t an apologist. He heard them and let them know, ‘I’m in this with you. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.’"
The Manitoba Disaster Management Conference board recognized Guyader’s contribution to emergency management in the province with a posthumous award. It was presented to his widow, Leslie Guyader, and their two adult daughters, at the annual disaster management conference earlier this month in Winnipeg.
Guyader was a Winnipeg firefighter from 1977 until 2008, when he retired as a platoon chief. He was the officer in charge at many harrowing fires, including a fatal rooming house fire on Elgin Avenue in 2006. He then spent several years with the EMO.
When ice jams and flooding threatened municipalities north of Winnipeg in 2009, he was emergency co-ordinator for the RMs of St. Andrews and West St. Paul.
"We worked in many stressful situations," said Napier, who knew Guyader from his work with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, as a councillor in the RM of St. François Xavier and as a co-ordinator with the EMO.
"Sometimes, when the stress level got very high, he could bring it down. He could make you laugh... He was a great leader," said Napier. "There’s a big difference between being a leader and being a manager. He made you feel excited about being a part of the team.
"He was quick. He had a mind like a computer, and could go to things and pull out facts but he wasn’t a know-it-all," said Napier. "He was very kind to people.
"He was one of those individuals you’d work with who put you in your place, but you never felt it was done maliciously."
When Paul Belair took on the job of municipal emergency co-ordinator for the RM of St. Laurent, Guyader offered guidance.
"He had so much knowledge and was so kind," said Belair, who drove with Guyader to check out all the beach-front properties in the community that were affected by the 2011 flood. The last time he saw Guyader was at the annual disaster management conference in Gimli.
"We were talking about an ice storm and having a backup power supply. He gave me some great input on that and, if we did go forward with it, it would save tens of thousands of dollars," said Belair.
"He was a leader and was always the one people were listening to."
Those leadership qualities likely came from Guyader’s upbringing, said Leslie Guyader, who was married to him for 33 years.
Her husband was born in Brussels, Belgium, where his mom and dad, an RCMP officer, were posted. After returning to Canada, Guyader attended the Anglican St. John’s Cathedral Boys’ School in Selkirk, from the age of 12 to 14.
"He learned a lot about survival and general life skills," his wife said. "There were a lot of activities outdoors and lessons on how to survive on as little as possible."
There, Guyader also cultivated a love of camping, canoeing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
"He was always on the move," his wife said. "He never slowed down. If there was nothing to do, he’d make something to do."
He was a devoted dad to his two daughters, one of whom is a paramedic with the WFPS. He was a doting "pappy" to his grandchildren, and a guy with a great sense of humour, Leslie Guyader said.
"The best thing about him was he was a family person and community oriented," she said. "He was always willing to lend a hand where he could, and he never shied away from anything difficult. He’d meet it head-on."