The way Brian Winter tells it, it was his wife Ginny who made the call to move to Cochrane in the mid-70s. Time tells it was a most fortunate decision for our entire community.

At the June 24 town council meeting, Brian became the newest member of the esteemed Order of Cochrane for the commitment and the leadership he has provided our community for almost 50 years.

It was an emotional night for those who joined the couple for the brief ceremony, including Ian McConnell, who nominated him for the award.

"I was surprised he wasn't nominated for the award before this," says Ian. "It just didn't make sense with all the work that he's done on the volunteer side as well. I said, 'I've got to fix this', so I put together a document that would make it very difficult not to give it to him."

Amazingly, with 18 hours remaining before nominations closed, McConnell compiled a comprehensive 50-page account in secret with Ginny of Brian's accomplishments and contributions.

As Ian puts it, sleep came later. Now that's something Brian would know well from his years as a firefighter and paramedic.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree of Kinesiology and a diploma in emergency paramedical care, Brian has made the safety of the community his top priority to this day, even in retirement, if there is truly such a thing for a man like Brian.

He joined the Cochrane Fire Department in 1979 as a volunteer and was one of several families that started the Cochrane Alliance Church.

In 1981, he became interim chief. In 1982, he left the City of Calgary Fire/Ambulance Dept. and accepted the dual Cochrane position of full-time fire chief and chief paramedic in the newly created position of chief of emergency services with the title of fire/ambulance chief.

In those two years alone, he was involved in fighting some of the largest and most dangerous fires in modern-day Cochrane. The volunteer firefighters helped to bring under control two grain elevators. In 1982, the firefighters brought under control a fire at the Esso Bulk Station, where The Station is now located on Railway St. Downtown Cochrane was evacuated in fear of a major explosion.

Dennis and BrianDennis Fundytus and Brian Winter are longtime friends who helped create the Cochrane and Area Health Foundation. (file photo)

A lifelong friendship was developed with Dr. Dennis Fundytus, who retired in 2019 after practicing in Cochrane for 40 years. Together, they responded to afterhours medical calls, including the delivery of a baby girl on the table of the old fire hall, affectionately known as the Fire Hall Baby.

The mystery of what happened to that baby was answered after Dennis ran into Kristy Perrault, now a registered nurse at the Foothills Hospital, a couple of years back.

READ: WATCH: Fire Hall Baby completes puzzle, 40 years later

Dennis was present at the ceremony and spoke highly of both Brian and Ginny.

"There's been lots of togetherness between Brian and I," says Fundytus. "His heart's in the right spot--the Town of Cochrane. I'm so grateful to know this couple. It's truly amazing."

With medical calls on the increase, Brian was instrumental in organizing a public meeting that lead to the creation of the Cochrane ambulance service. The residents wanted it. Council gave the greenlight and gave him three months to start the service. It was launched on July 1,1983.

Those were rewarding days, says Brian, and a rightful source of pride to those who stepped forward to help. Brian thanks all those who were involved.

"We had a lot of fun in the early days," said Brian in his acceptance speech. "We need to write a book one day."

Among the highlights was becoming the first paramedic to do a flight with STARS in 1988. He was also awarded an Alberta Fire Service Exemplary Service Medal in 2006. 

In 1997, the town administration decided a change of leadership was required within the fire department. 

"I thought my world had ended," recalls Brian. "When I went home and we had a family meeting, they said, "Dad, we love you, but we do not want to leave Cochrane--this is our home."

He listened to his family, turned the other cheek and took another position until his 'retirement' in 2007.

When slow ambulance arrival times became an unbearable risk to the community, Brian came into the forefront again and joined with others to take action. He went on to become chair of the Cochrane EMS Crisis Community Action Group.

Brian and gangSome members of the CAG recently attended a briefing to town council by EMS officials. From left, Paul Singh, Brian Winter, Ian McConnell and Don Sharpe.

READ: EMS presentation deliberately confusing says CAG

That advocacy will continue until the ambulance system is put right.

Brian didn't stop there. He realized Cochrane had a missing link in providing health care services and was a leading force in establishing the Cochrane and Area Health Foundation. He's the founding chair and Dennis is vice-chair.

READ: Health Foundation receives charitable status

Ginny is proud of her husband, calling the receipt of the award amazing and well deserved.

"Like they say, it's more than a one-person award," Brian quickly points out.

The high school sweethearts have been together since they were sent to the principal's office for holding hands.

"As we left the office, she grabbed my hand again," recalls Brian. "I said to myself, she's a keeper."

Earlier in their marriage, he was once again reminded of his good fortune.

Upon arriving home from his part-time job in Calgary, Ginny declared they were going to Cochrane; and it wasn't for ice cream. She had put a downpayment on a house.

"Once again, I said to myself, 'she is a keeper'."

They've recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and have raised five children in Cochrane.

Brian thanked his family for their understanding and support over the years.

"Hey, family, sorry for missing your birthdays, school events and other activities when I was on call," he said. "Thanks for standing by me and continuously carrying on.

"Thanks for 10 beautiful grandkids – the likes of which we will have eight of here at the end of July...  without their parents!"

Mayor Jeff Genung saluted Brian before presenting the award. 

"Brian has been a dedicated member of our community for nearly 50 years," said Genung. "He has made countless contributions to the safety of Cochrane residents, not only in service as fire chief and chief paramedic but also through his volunteer and advocacy efforts."

Brian will be in good company.

Robin Harvie became the first member of the order in 2009, and the last was Dan Kroffat.

In between, JoAnne Churchill, Valerie McCracken, Dr. Ross Watson, Susan Flowers, Betty and Denis Goodsell, Jack Tennant, Maureen Wills, Lydia Graham, Gordon Davies, Jimmy and Christina MacKay Family, and Barry Mjolsness all became members of the order.

winter and councilBrian with council members, Patrick Wilson, Marni Fedeyko, Alex Reed, Mayor Jeff Genung, Tara McFadden, and Susan Flowers. The award was presented on June 24.