Firefighter grad helps save elderly man in week of staggering blazes

- June 12, 2023

Conor Scott received his Master of Public Administration degree from Dal on June 2. (Provided photo)
Conor Scott received his Master of Public Administration degree from Dal on June 2. (Provided photo)

When Conor Scott walked across the stage to receive his Master of Public Administration degree, he looked like many of his classmates who had spent the last several years studying hard and working toward this goal. Like his peers, he had on his black, standard-issue graduate's cap and gown, but beneath the dark robe was a suit that told a unique story.

Scott decided at the last minute to wear his Class A firefighter's uniform during his ceremony earlier this month, capping off an extraordinary week that saw him at the centre of one of Nova Scotia's most devastating wildfires, in the middle of a frightening rescue to save a man's life and on the receiving end of a surprise call from the prime minister.

"I was kind of on the fence about wearing it, but I talked to my chief and he said I absolutely should! I'm so glad I did," says Scott, who did his degree on a part-time basis over five years while working as a firefighter.

"I am immensely proud of what I do — I love my job and to be able to represent that for this degree that I poured my heart into was really special. But it was a week, that's for sure!"

Into a wall of fire

That week started out routinely enough, with Scott and his captain at their station in Halifax on May 28 before they were called out to Tantallon to do look-out duties with their aerial truck. Soon after his shift began, an emergency call came in indicating that a wildfire was spreading in the area and that an elderly man would not leave his nearby home as flames closed in.

Without hesitating, the pair jumped in a truck and headed toward the home with only basic personal protective gear and no oxygen equipment. Scott was trying to identify the house by using Google maps and trying to read the civic signs, which were obscured by thick black smoke.

"As we got halfway down the street, everything went black — you couldn't see five feet in front of you, but you could see embers and flames crossing the road. It felt like we were driving through a wall of fire," says the 38-year-old Dartmouth native.

His captain, Kevin Corkum, stopped at a home and Scott saw that it was the right civic number. He bolted from the truck, ran to the front door and kicked it down when he realized it was locked. Inside he found the man sitting in his living room, unaware of what was going on as flames closed in around his house.

The pair were able to help the man out of the house and into their truck before heading back onto the road now enveloped in thick plumes of smoke.

"We drove through the wall of smoke again and when we came out the other side, I had this moment where I realized the family was going to get their grandfather back, so that was really nice," he says. "As soon as we handed him off to the medics, we went right back down the road to try to help some other families."

Battling another blaze

Three days later and the day before Scott's convocation, he was called to yet another blaze. A fire had broken out at the historic Waegwoltic club in south-end Halifax and several crews — already stretched by wildfires throughout the province — were working to extinguish the flames that poured out of the stately white building.

For that service, Scott received a standing ovation at his convocation following a mention by Dr. Kim Brooks, Dal's acting provost and vice-president academic.

“The people who pursue graduate work at the Faculty of Management are extraordinary — many contribute to communities and workplaces while pursuing graduate degrees.," says Dr. Brooks.

"We wanted to acknowledge Conor Scott because he's a graduate student who was responding to the dire need in our community for firefighters and he made the time to attend convocation to celebrate his academic success with us."

The gesture was not lost on Scott.

"I was not expecting that and felt very sheepish, but that recognition made me really happy I wore my uniform," he said, adding that his parents and partner were there to take it all in.

Then came an unexpected call earlier this week.

 "I actually got a call from the prime minister yesterday," says Scott. "He called my captain and I to congratulate us and thank us for what we did, and I had a lovely short little conversation with him. He was very gracious and thankful for what we do."

Scott, who is in his 10th year of firefighting, says he plans on continuing with his work and will spend the next little while preparing to become a first-time father at the end of July.

Recommended reading -- A wish fulfilled: Long sidetracked by family matters, 92‑year‑old finally receives Dal degree


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