Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
What you need to know about COVID-19: August 11, 2020
It’s a pretty scenic view of downtown and the Narrows from Chief Sherry Colford’s office atop the St. John’s Regional Fire Department Central Station on Military Road.
But it wasn’t always where she saw things from in her career.
About 17 years ago, when Colford was 29 years old, she worked as a client relations manager with Victor Aerospace in the Paramount Building just next door.
The building overlooked the old central fire station, where she would regularly watch firefighters train on a tower. She had a well-paying job in the private industry, but seeing them often made her reflect on her future.
“I was going on 30 and I didn’t know if I wanted to be in a business where you’re constantly focused on making money. I wanted something where I was driven by something meaningful — something more than just making a dollar,” said Colford, who graduated from Memorial University in 1996 with degrees in business administration and Russian language.
“I used to watch the guys train on the old tower that was next to the station for about a year and a half and one day, I went home and I said to my husband, ‘I think I want to quit my job and go to fire school.’ He said, ‘Go for it.’”
With encouragement from her father, Colford took a leap of faith.
"...since I’ve been in the job, you really start to appreciate what it means to people. I’ve had young girls get excited, saying the doors were opened for them. That’s a nice feeling.” — Sherry Colford
To get a taste of the environment, she first worked as a relief 911 dispatcher and went to fire school. At a time when there was no recruitment, she decided to take a management analyst position, sitting next to the chief as she handled audits, operational reviews and strategic planning.
“It was all about how we can better the department,” she said.
She then took over 911 communications and went to the province on a secondment for a year and a half to implement the province’s 911 program before returning to the fire department.
In June 2018, Colford made history by becoming the department’s first female chief.
“I had been here so long, I never really gave it much thought,” when asked about the momentous promotion. “But I’ve got to say, since I’ve been in the job, you really start to appreciate what it means to people. I’ve had young girls get excited, saying the doors were opened for them. That’s a nice feeling.”
As head of about 200 staff, including about 200 firefighters and 30 volunteer firefighters, she said she’s busier than she’s ever been, but says she’s enjoying the challenge.
She’s been mainly focused on such things as improving technology and equipment.
When she’s not working, Colford enjoys hunting and watching her beloved Toronto Blue Jays play.
When Colford was appointed chief, a friend wrote the Jays’ club, which sent her a congratulatory letter. The letter — with a card of her favourite player, Russell Martin, included — is framed and hangs on her office wall.
1. What is your full name?
Sherry Lynn Colford (Hedges)
2. Where and when were you born?
Grand Falls-Windsor (on the Windsor side) in 1972.
3. Where do you live today?
4. What is your favourite place in the world?
Besides my own home, I would have to say Hilton Hawaiian in Honolulu.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
Other than the Toronto Blue Jays, no person in particular, but I love following positive people who post things that make me laugh.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I love big-game hunting and staying in my family’s little one-room cabin in the middle of nowhere with no power or running water — as long as I have good coffee.
7. What’s been your favourite year and why?
I don’t have a favourite year. I try to live in the moment as much as I can and enjoy my life as it is.
8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
I have two. I was pall bearer for my grandmother. I was very close to her, so it meant a lot, but was also very tough. Many people can relate, I’m sure. And the second, I moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, by myself when I was 22 years old. I was there for about a year. It was tough leaving everything I knew to go to a place where I knew no one and I was shaky with the language, but it was the greatest experience.
9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
When I worked in the private industry, I was struggling with the decision to quit a really good job and go to firefighting school. My dad and I had a habit of going out for lunch, so one lunchtime I told him my dilemma. He drew a road on a paper napkin and then he drew all these side roads. He talked to me about how I would be pulled down many different directions but how important it was to stay focused on the right road. That lunch date changed the course of my life. I wish I had saved the napkin.
9. What is your greatest indulgence?
When I can, I love naps on the weekend. We don’t have children so we get to do that.
10. What is your favourite movie or book?
My favourite novel is a thriller called By Reason of Insanity by Shane Stevens. It was written in 1979. I have read it at least four times.
11. How do you like to relax?
Anything with my husband. He’s the most relaxed person I know, so I just naturally relax around him. I strive to be more like him. It’ll probably never happen.
12. What are you reading or watching right now?
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I do, I love watching true crime —either American Greed or Forensic Files. If I’m watching TV with my husband, I watch whatever he’s watching.
13. What is your greatest fear?
I have two. Running out of moose sausages before next hunting season and my husband eventually seeing my high school picture where I was wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey. He’s a Leafs fan.
14. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
Anything sold by White House Black Market.
15. What is your most treasured possession?
My father’s watch. It’s 58 years old. His mother gave it to him for his 13th birthday. I had it fixed when I was 16 years old and I still wear it every now and then.
16. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
Their sense of humour — from both my parents. They love to laugh all the time. Even in serious moments, they can lighten a mood for people. I like to think I can do that.
17. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
I have four — both sets of grandparents … I never got to meet my dad’s mother. She passed away young. I have always heard how strong she was, so I would love to meet her. My other three grandparents, I would love to have the chance to ask them more questions about how they grew up.
I realize as I get older that I didn’t ask enough questions when they were alive.
18. What is your best quality?
I am told by my husband that it’s my sense of humour. I’m sure there would’ve been a long list if he could list more.
19. What is your worst quality?
I would say I can be critical of people. I sometimes have too high expectations of others.
20. What’s your biggest regret?
I regret times when I didn’t listen to my gut instincts. My instincts have never steered me wrong.