In Memory of our firefighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The earliest form that firefighting took, was the Bucket Brigade, which was formed by two lines of citizens, between the source of water and the fire, one passing the empty buckets back to the source of water in a continuous chain until the fire was out and the danger over.
In the early days of Fredericton or St Anne’s Point, the Military played a very large part in the protection of the citizens and were the first to form what is now known as a Salvage Co. They had the duty of salvaging the contents of the buildings and of preventing looting in the area.
The first real organization of fire protection took place during the year 1816 when a series of fires forced the governing bodies to do something about having a group of men organized to act in the event of fire and to have some sort of concrete form.
March 22, 1817 is the birthday of the Fredericton Fire Department, for on that date the Provincial Government passed an Act providing for the appointment of Fire Wards in the capital city. The then Governor in Council decreed that eight responsible men, from both the Gentry and the Common people be elected as Fire Wards. These men were selected and sworn into office and given certificates of their positions. In order that these Wards be distinguished from their members of the brigade, they were given and carried as their insignia of office, a staff of seven feet, painted red and a speaking trumpet painted white with the name Fredericton painted on it. This staff and trumpet were to assist the Wards in communicating and directing the men while engaged in fighting fires. In those days the Gentry wore high silk hats and wore white wigs. The appointment if these Wards was the first start of what is now a common practice, that of building inspection, as part of their duties to inspect the buildings in their respective Wards.
It was not until September 3, 1839 that the City Fire Wards drafted a code of regulations setting forth the duties of bucket brigades, ladder companies and axe men while in attendance at fires.
The Great Fire of 1850 – 2000 people left homeless, over 300 buildings burned, including 156 homes, 18 acres and four city blocks were destroyed. The total loss from this fire was estimated at a staggering 100,000 pounds.
In the early 1850′s, the five Wards of the city were equipped with hand pumps, which allowed the first mechanical propulsion of water at fires. The first hand pump was owned by the city was made by a Mr Taylor who lived and worked at the Taylor house on Westmorland Street between George and Charlotte Streets.
The first four wheeled hose cart owned in the city was built by Mr John Malony in 1852 and was attached to Ward #1.
The hand pumps or engines as they were termed, propelled water from cisterns that were located at various corners throughout the city and were of sufficient depth to allow the river water to enter through layers of sand at their bottoms. The tanks were covered in winter to keep them from freezing.
The hose used with these pumps was made of the very finest leather and riveted together in some thirty and forty foot lengths and had iron rings attached at intervals for the easy carrying of same. With the coming of the steam fire engines, this type of hose became dangerous to both firefighters and citizens, due to flying rivets caused by the heavy pressure of the steam pumps, and had to be replaced by rubber hose in the year 1876.
No. 1 Engine was housed in the west end of the city at the corner of Queen and Northumberland Streets. In later years, this building was moved out to Smythe Street between Argyle and Victoria Streets, rebuilt by the Lofstrom family. It is still standing.
No. 2 & 3 Engines were housed in a wooden building at 441 King Street, later replaced in 1914 by a brink structure, used as the Central Fire Station until 1971. It is now occupied by Bell Boy Cleaners, a dry cleaning company.
No. 4 Engine was also on King Street at just below the old Queen Hotel Alley, now called Camperdown Lane. This pump was the pride of the fleet. It was built by Fireman Henry Biggs, a member of a well known Fredericton family also prominent in musical circles.
No. 5 Engine was in the east end of University Avenue, then called Sunbury Street, this structure was also converted into a home and is standing near the corner of Shore Street and University Avenue.
The next great mechanical stride the department took was the purchase of a steam engine. The first steam Fire Engine was invented in England in 1828 but was not really accepted in North America until some time later. So it was in 1867 that the city of Fredericton bought it’s first steamer, and Amoskeag engine and it was called the “Alexandra”. It came to No. 2 Company to have the honour of being the first Steamer Company in the city.
Seven years later in 1874, No. 3 company was presented with a steamer made by the Silsby Company and it was christened the “City of Fredericton”. This company was affectionately called the “Irish Brigade”. Many stories have been told of the rivalry between these two fine groups, who have the honour of getting first water on a fire.
The completing of the pumping station in 1883 sounded the knell of the steamers, for in that year, a fire was successfully combated with water from the new hydrants, however, the steamers were not discarded immediately.
Alexandra (the Amoskeag) rendered service at St. Mary’s and Gibson fires in the 1890′s and her last call at the burning of Fraser’s Aberdeen Mill in the west end of the city in 1905. The mill was located on the Woodstock Road near the present Delta Hotel.
Following that, she was loaned to the Morrisons for the protection of their lumber milling property at the eastern end of the city. For a number of years, she stood on the bank of the river poorly housed and during that time, deteriorated greatly from the action of the weather. She was later stored in the basement of City Hall, and eventually taken out and scrapped.
The Silsby enjoyed a somewhat happier fate. Early in the 1900′s, she was sold to the firm of Cickie & McGrath Ltd, who were at that time, millionaire lumber operators with a headquarters in Tusket, Nova Scotia and for some years after the company went out of business was used by the town’s fire department.
While many cities used two and three horse hitches to pull their steamers, it was not until 1902 that the city of Fredericton purchased the first horses to replace the manpower in pulling the fire equipment. The first horse was put into service on a hose cart, followed by one for a ladder wagon. These were rather small light wagons, with the first drivers being Bill Wilson and Steve Doucette.
In 1916, a large ladder wagon was purchased from Swamscott, Mass, and was in service until the fall of 1937. A regulation hose cart was also added to the Department and was in service until 1929. After that, it was kept in reserve for parades and any emergency. The first motor truck, a La France hose and chemical truck was put into service in the same year (1916), and retired in 1946.
1927 was a dark year for the department as George Clynic became the first firefighter killed in the line of duty. His name is on the Firefighter’s memorial down by the south bank of the Saint John River.
1929, saw two disastrous fires in that year. One was in the 400 block of Queen Street, the area now occupied by the old Zellers building. The other was in the Provincial Normal School across the street. After this, the city invested in a new 1000GPM La France Pumper and after being in two accidents and being repaired by the Bickle Fire Engine Co, it was retired in the late 1950′s.
A new steel-framed ladder sled was built by Horsnell Iron Works of Fredericton to replace the old wooden framed one in the early 30′s. Horses continued in use of the ladder wagon and sled until February 1938 when they were driven for the last time to Box 6 at the corner of Argyle and York Streets, by Hugh O’Neill who had been handling the team of Bill and Doll since September, 1929.
Some of the other men who handled the reins of the “Fire Horses” over the years were; Melvin Bearisto, Pete Finnegan, Leo Ward, Lloyd Shaw, Fred Desaulnier and Harry McNeill, in addition to holiday supply drivers Sanford Smith, John Roberts and Edward King.
During the 1920′s and 1930′s, the Fire Department staff consisted of only three full time drivers who would answer all the chimney and minor fire calls. There was also a force of on-call firemen, approximately 35 who would respond on general alarms.
The permanent staff was not increased until May 1942 when two additional drivers were appointed; Sanford Smith, son of former Fire Chief Roy Smith, and Harold Doherty. Doherty left the following September to serve in the Canadian Firefighters Corps in England, and Smith left the department the following year to take up duties in an air raid precaution division of the government.
May 1942 also saw the position for Fire Chief changed from part time to full time, with Karl A. Walker leading the Department through the war years.
The next increase in manpower came at the end of the War in 1945; Harold Doherty started his long tenure as fire chief in August of that year. Also, extra men were added to the force. The town of Devon became part of Fredericton and a platoon system was introduced in the department for the first time. The amalgamation greatly increased the force of call firefighters which rose to number 60 men.
With the coming of the 1950′s, there was a continuous growth in the permanent staff and a decline of manpower in the call department. In spring of 1950, the permanent staff became members of the International Association of Firefighters and received a charter as Local 1053.
In early 1954, a new modern fire station was opened on MacLaren Avenue to replace the old wooden building that had been in use from 1945. This structure was on Union Street just above Gibson.
The mechanized fleet of pumpers and tankers kept up with the demand of the times but it was not until 1960 that Fredericton received the first unit of aerial equipment. A 65ft aerial platform or Snorkel as the trade name became, was put in service in the fall of 1960. It was the first of it’s kind to be used by a Fire Department in Canada. They had been in use in the United States, principally in the city of Chicago.
With the city growing steadily and the runs from King Street Station becoming longer, it became necessary to locate a sub station on College Hill to service the areas on the hill and the newly developing housing in the southeast. This station was opened in 1965, and housed a new 840GPM King Seagrave pumper and twelve additional men taken on strength served this area well for the next 15 years.
By 1970 the King Street Fire Station was becoming obsolete, the famous old air horn that used to shatter the stillness of the city had “blatted” itself out. A new fire station was built at the corner of York and Dundonald Streets in conjunction with a police station. A new alarm system was installed by NB Telephone Company. The station was officially opened in May 1971.
1971 also saw the Fredericton Call Firefighters disbanded after serving the city faithfully for so many years. In 1973, with the amalgamation of the surrounding districts, the call men of these areas were used for a brief time, however this force was eventually retired in favour of a complete permanent force. The integration of all the fire departments came into effect very smoothly.
The 70′s were a busy time for the firefighters of the capital city, seeing more new vehicles come into service and many large fires. Three more firefighters were killed in the line of duty in this decade – Vince Porter in 1974, Gerald Trecartin in 1975 and Benny Kerton in 1976.
The 1980′s and 1990′s saw the introduction of modern firefighting techniques such as Positive Pressure Ventilation and Foam handlines. New trucks with built-in foam tanks gradually replaced the older apparatus. The formation of a Hazardous Materials team in 1994 and the addition of water and ice rescue capabilties added to the abilities of the force.
In 1999, Fredericton hired its first female firefighter when Shelley Ryan joined the force in April and in 2000, the department aquired it’s first ‘quint’, an aerial/pumper combination truck.
As the equipment in the fire service has changed over the years, so has firefighting operations, but that is another story in itself. The Age of Science is complicated and so are the engines that must deal with its fires, and fire equipment has kept pace with the inventions and techniques of our age.
The Fredericton Fire Department is right up there with the best of them.
The Fredericton Fallen Firefighters Memorial can be found on the south bank of the Saint John River beside the Small Craft Aquatic Center.
Click here to visit the Fredericton Firefighters Museum for history and photos.
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