On Saturday, January 28, Captain Joe Holstein of the Crossfield Fire Department will be receiving the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal (Alberta) during a ceremony at Redwood Meadows hosted by the Alberta Fire Chiefs Association. Captain Holstein has been a firefighter in Crossfield for 39 years, making him one of the longest-serving members of the department.

Holstein joined the fire service in the early 1980s at the tender age of 15, and at one time during his tenure, he served as the department's Chief. 

"Growing up in Crossfield, it was a good way to get back to my community, and I just love serving the community," he said. "I ended up staying and was able to give 39 years of service to the town."

Apart from the typical duties a firefighter has, Holstein is also deeply involved in the community, with his wife Cheryl Longeway, who organizes the Christmas Hamper Program run by the fire department every holiday season.

However, it's not just his long service as a firefighter that earned the captain the medal, but also his openness in talking about his own mental health struggles as a first responder. Since being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2014, he has become an outspoken advocate for mental health support.

"Many, many first responders do get diagnosed with it, but I am not going to let it beat me. I want to keep going and I want to help the younger firefighters understand what signs and symptoms of PTSD are," Captain Holstein said. "The article [Discover Airdrie] did, brought great awareness to the public eye."

Though Captain Holstein is one of the longest-serving members, he credits the longest-serving member of the Crossfield Fire Department, firefighter Bill Walker, who served the department for over six decades, for mentoring him.

aA plague of firefighter Bill Walker, whom Captain Holstein credits with mentorship, hangs in the Crossfield Fire Hall. (Photo provided by Joe Holstein) 

"He was a big inspiration to me. I did my first Santa Claus run with him when I was 15. He was a very valued member of the fire department up until he retired from us."

Captain Holstein has also seen many operational and technical changes for not only Crossfield's fire department but the fire service in the nearly four decades he has served. Decades ago, applications with GPS had not yet been developed and to firefighters back then, it may have seemed like something out of a science fiction novel. 

"Back then they would pretty much call in and Bill would direct us; turn left or turn right."

Now as one of the most veteran firefighters in the hall, he said that part of being a role model for the younger generations of firefighters is the mutual respect that both younger and older firefighters have for each other.

"I have so much respect for the young people that are getting into this industry. My fire family - I love them dearly like I love my own family. You go to these calls, you go to these situations and you go through this together," he said. 

Holstein said he isn't quite sure when he will retire from firefighting, saying ideally, he will be a Crossfield firefighter as long as he can.

"I am a firm believer in the fact that you should give back to the community and help your fellow citizens. Over the years, I've just absolutely developed a true passion and love for the fire service," he said. "It just keeps me going and it's very rewarding to see people in the community that thank you for your help for your service."

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