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Barrie fire captain retires same day his daughter starts training

'There were certainly some mixed emotions that day ... seeing Alanna getting started was a great moment for sure,' says Attila Kovacs

In 2005, Barrie fire department Cpt. Attila Kovacs brought his daughter Alanna to the fire hall for a ‘take your kid to work' day.

On Monday, he was at the fire hall on her first day of training while she was able to wish him well in retirement at the same time.  

Attila worked his last shift with Barrie Fire and Emergency Services on Monday after 32 years of service. He didn’t plan on having family and friends in attendance to celebrate the special day due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Alanna ended up having her first training day at the same time. 

“That was a nice coincidence, that's for sure,” Attila told BarrieToday. “There were certainly some mixed emotions that day as I was saying goodbye to my crew, but I was also glad to start my retirement. Seeing Alanna getting started was a great moment for sure.”

Unless this was Hollywood, it couldn't have been written any better. 

Alanna says it was a complete surprise for her as well.

“It was not planned at all. It just worked out that way. I was starting my first day of training and we found out that we would be there to go say goodbye to my dad. It was very cool,” Alanna told BarrieToday. “I was very proud, seeing everyone honouring him and realizing not only has this man given so much to the job, but that he’s my dad.”

Attila started working with the Barrie fire department in October 1988 and has been a part of the same platoon  'D' platoon to be exact  throughout his entire career. 

“It's not a huge thing maybe to some, but it's just so very rare for that to happen as you’re constantly getting moved around,” he said.

Attila has seen a lot of people come and go, and many changes to the fire service in the time he’s been there.

“There have been some changes, like the way we fight fires; our gear is more specialized and everything is just much more stringent with training and preparation,” he said. “We’ve always been prepared; it's just different nowadays.”

Alanna didn't grow up wanting to be a firefighter, but the road eventually led her to her following in her dad's fire boots.

“I was working at Innisfil Fire in administration in 2014 and that led to a volunteer position at Springwater Fire a couple years later,” she said. “I certainly wasn’t the kid dreaming of joining the fire service, but here we are.”

Alanna says her whole family has been supportive of her and have been helping her get ready for her 13 weeks of training.

“I recently got engaged and my fiance has been helping me keep the fitness levels up with some running,” she said. “My mom and two brothers have even been assisting, just helping me knock things off the to-do-list. I’m sure they’re a bit nervous about it, but also extremely supportive.”

Dad was also beaming when talking about his daughter.

“I’m so proud of her, I really am. Seeing her Monday getting her training started was great. I’d say I’m nervous, but not overly,” said Attila. “She’s doing the work and is in good hands. It's a great place to work.”

Alanna knows she’ll see lots of things — both good and bad  in her upcoming career and remembers how her dad handled it while she was growing up.

“He never brought it home, he was just Dad. I know he had some bad calls, but we never knew when they were,” she said. “My parents would take me and my brothers to the beach. We’d make the most of his time off and he was just such a great dad who happened to be a firefighter. He’s always been a great dad.”

When asked about some of the calls he remembered most from his long career, Attila didn’t elaborate too much.

“Oh, there's been some bad ones, ones I would rather not have seen. But that's the job,” he said. “I do think back to some moments that stick out, like the funeral of Billy Wilkins  that was a big day. And, of course, when we all went down to New York after 9/11 to show support. Many moments, that's for sure.”

On the morning of Monday, May 27, 2002, Barrie firefighter William “Billy” Wilkins went to a house fire in the city’s northwest end with his platoon. Shortly after 10:42 a.m., he would tragically become the city’s fourth firefighter to die in the line of duty and the first in more than 50 years.

Anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 people lined up along St. Vincent Street for the service at the old Emmanuel Baptist Church. 

Though Attila's last shift was Monday, his official retirement is today when he's no longer officially employed by the City of Barrie.

Plans in a COVID world are much different than what the Kovacs family thought they’d be doing. They are big into track and field, with Attila and his wife Monique being coaches at the local track club, which he said they will continue to help with. 

Alanna herself was a star in discus and javelin, representing Canada in discus at the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships. In 2011, she won bronze in both discus and javelin at the Canadian Championships and followed that up with a silver in discus in 2012 and a javelin bronze in 2013.

Alanna, who also studied at DePaul University in Chicago from 2008 until 2012, was ranked second in the country in 2015 heading into the Pan-Am Games in Toronto.

Despite international travel restrictions, Attila says he will be kept quite busy in a much-deserved retirement.

“My wife and I would have been planning to travel, but with everything going on we’ll lay low for a little while. We will continue with our track and field, but other than that, I believe there is a list of things for me to catch up on now that I’m home more,” he said.