The History of Organized Firefighting in Blandford From the 1960's to Present
An organized response to fires and other emergencies has only been available to the residents and visitors of our communities since 1965. Before this date, residents had to rely on each other for emergencies with the only assistance being from family and neighbours. Notable fires that destroyed property before the founding of an organized fire response system were the loss of Murray Fleets' barn and Cornelius' Garage, both in Blandford.
During the early months of 1965, a series of community meetings were held to discuss the formation of a volunteer fire department. This new department would provide protection and emergency response services to the residents of Blandford, Bayswater, Aspotogan and Northwest Cove.
With the opening of a new elementary school in Blandford, the old school became available as surplus to Municipal needs. An offer of $125 to purchase the school was accepted and on March 16th, 1965 the community now had a home for its new fire department. At the same time, the list of men willing to volunteer as firemen continued to grow. It was decided that this new department would be a sub-unit of the Hubbards Fire Department. Since the organization was not a full-fledged fire department, it did not have a fire chief. The senior position in the organization was the First Captain, held for many years by Earl Publicover.
The first fire truck was a 1956 Willys Jeep, donated by the Hubbards Fire Department. Due to its limited water tank capacity of 200 gallons, a water tanker was also needed. A 1947 Ford with an oil tank was added to the fleet before year end, this also being donated from the Hubbards department. Records show that a new portable pump was purchased for $600.95 with monies raised by door to door canvassing, raffles, and bake sales. Additional equipment was purchased to outfit the new department and to make modifications to the old school house building to house the "new" trucks. With the support of the community, the men of the department answered a total of eight alarms their first year, all of which were fires.
Just one month after its inception on April 8th, there was another group of dedicated citizens ready and willing to support the men of the newly formed fire department, the Ladies Auxiliary. Dinners, raffles and handiwork sales were the bread and butter of their fundraising activities.
The department's second year saw the start of a weekly Bingo event to aid in raising money to support the department. Donna Covey won the first jackpot almost one year later, taking home $295. To this day, Bingo continues to provide a source of revenue and is a social outlet for the community.
With its age beginning to show, the old tanker was replaced in 1968 by 1962 Mercury bought from Hale Covey. This truck was equipped with an oil tanker body and a rear-mounted portable pump. Much of the work to improve this truck was completed by Earl and Lamont Publicover. This truck would serve our communities for the next 14 years as the #1 tanker.
The 1970's saw progress and advancement for the fire department as members attended some of the first training sessions conducted at the Maritime Firefighters Training School in Waverley. By now it was apparent that a replacement would be needed for the Willys Jeep and the process began to replace this long serving fire apparatus. In 1976, a truck committee was formed to develop the replacement plan. At the same time, the process to separate the fire services from Hubbards and become an independent fire department on its own was started. In 1977, a set of bylaws was written and the District #1 Fire Department formally came into existence. With its new independence, a fire tax was established to provide a more reliable income source to supplement the cost of the first new fire truck for Blandford Area Fire Rescue. The initial tax rate was just $.05 / $100 of assessment.
In 1978 the department and community took delivery of a $28,000 fire truck equipped with a 300 GPM pump and an 1800 gallon stainless steel water tank. This truck was fabricated by Wrand Fire Apparatus of Dartmouth and completed by department members, again namely Earl and Lamont Publicover. With the delivery of the new tanker, the jeep was placed for sale and monies realized were used to pay down the new truck debt.
With a new commercial kitchen to work from, the Ladies Auxiliary began to cater weddings and other functions. In 1979 a new auxiliary was formed, to be known as the District #1 Fire Auxiliary.
With all of the good news for the department during the 1970's, there was much tragedy as well. The first fire death occurred in 1976 in a fire in a mobile home in Lower Blandford. Two more persons would perish this same year when a Navy Grumman Tracker patrol plane crashed in Bayswater after taking off on a training flight from CFB Shearwater in Dartmouth.
The 1980's was a time of great expansion for the department. The department had outgrown its station and a building committee was formed. It was soon determined that they were not alone in their want and need for new facilities. With the IOOF Lodge and the ARA these three community groups decided that consolidating their efforts would be in the best interests of all. In July of 1985, after many years of hard work designing, fundraising and overseeing the construction of the new District #1 Community Centre, the time had come to vacate the old station. The new station offered facilities and features unavailable in the old station, not the least of which was a concrete floor in the apparatus room.
For the first time in department history a woman was now amongst the list of firefighters. Connie (Gates) LeBlanc became the department's first female firefighter in 1981. Since this time, there have been additional female responders on the department.
The 1964 tanker was now almost twenty years old and a replacement was needed. The Nictaux fire department was replacing a 1967 pumper that had a 625 gallon per minute pump and 500 gallon tank. The department purchased this truck for $10,000 and the old tanker was sold to Big Tancook Island, where it served for another eight years.
During the planning for the community centre it became necessary to reform the commission and in 1985, through an Act of the provincial legislature, the District #1 Fire Commission was formed. At this time, the service area was expanded to include emergency services up to Little East River.
From their original small kitchen in the old fire hall the Auxiliary was now the proud operator of the new kitchen in the Community Centre. Catering was now a major generator of funds and these monies would be put to good use by the department to continue to improve and expand its fleet of equipment for the benefit of the community.
With two fire apparatuses and a growing list of portable equipment, the department now focused its attention on acquiring a faster and more reliable way of alerting firefighters of emergencies to replace the telephone callouts and station siren. Personal pagers were purchased for all members and new radios were installed in the trucks, along with additional portable radios. For the previous one hundred years, firefighters had worn long coats and high boots to protect them from the water and flames at fires, but change was coming to the department. In 1988, bunker gear, short coats and pants of fire resistant material were purchased for each and every member. Up until this point, the available protective clothing was second and third-hand, passed on by larger departments to the department as donations.
In May of 1988, the department accepted a four wheel drive rescue truck with a twelve foot enclosed body for equipment and manpower from Lantz Truck Bodies of Port Williams for $45,000.
Tragedy struck again with a fire death, ironically this fire was on the same road in Lower Blandford that claimed the first fire victim twelve years before.
With the acquisition of the rescue truck in 1988 department members began taking courses in emergency medical care and vehicle rescue. Equipment was acquired and skills were honed as a new era in emergency response began to take hold.
Under the guidance of then Chief Brent LeBlanc, the department contracted itself to the owners of a health resort under construction in 1993. The department was now the employer of four security personnel providing around the clock site protection until construction was completed. What was supposed to have been a six month contract has become the most successful and long lasting fundraising effort ever undertaken by the department. Since June 13th 1993 the department has supplied security services to the various owners of the unfinished spa, located in Northwest Cove. Profits realized over this time have enabled the department to purchase an air compressor and cascade system used to refill air cylinders at fire scenes as well as many other items.
The time had come again to replace an aging apparatus as rust and obsolescence doomed the 1967 pumper. With a wealth of knowledge, Bernard Turpin guided the truck committee in the design of the next pumper. Fort Garry Industries of Winnipeg Manitoba delivered our $174,000 five person attack pumper in June 1994. This fully enclosed top mounted pumper is equipped with a 1050 gpm pump and a 900 gallon tank and an ample amount of storage compartments and continues to serve as our primary fire response apparatus.
The department began to develop water sites throughout the district by installing dry hydrants at various locations. These hydrants were initially designed as refill points for our tanker but today are the primary water distribution points for pumping water long distances through large diameter hose.
The department reached its membership peak during the 1990's with a steady membership in the high twenties.
September 2nd, 1998 will be remembered forever by the community and by its firefighters. On this rainy night, SwissAir flight 111 crashed into the ocean five kilometers off of Bayswater beach taking with it 229 passengers and crew. For the next month, the community centre would be the home for military personnel who descended on our community to assist with the recovery of the remains of passengers and the aircraft. At its height, five helicopters, eighty vehicles and 1000 personnel rotated through the community centre which acted as their home and command centre. A field kitchen served 1000 meals per day while a shower unit was set up in the upper parking lot for soldiers and airmen to get a hot shower after a long and grueling search day. Awards of appreciation from the military are on display in the entrance of the community centre today, as they were very appreciative of the support they received from the community during their time spent here. Swissair donated $20,000 to the community at a reception to responders in April 1999. After a public contest, to determine a worthy organization and project, half was given to the community centre and the remaining $10,000 was used to purchase a defibrillator and training in its use.
Fire phones were installed in as many as five residences and businesses at any one time over the years to insure that someone would be available to answer a request for emergency service. Since medical responses now outpaced all other emergency calls and a province wide 9-1-1 service had been established in 1996 the time had come to switch from our long serving fire phones to a central dispatch facility. Scotia Business Centre, in Bridgewater, continues to provide 24 hour dispatching services and station alarm monitoring to our department.
Age and obsolescence had once again caught up with our vehicles and in 2001 yet another truck committee prepared to embark on the most detailed replacement program to date. The initial plan was to replace the 1977 tanker because of age and weight concerns but after a review of all apparatus it became clear that there were concerns with the rescue truck as well.
The decision was made to remount the 1987 rescue body onto a heavier four door chassis and acquire another pumper to replace the 1977 tanker. By a unanimous decision at a well attended public meeting of the fire commission the wheels were set in motion. For the first time since the department's inception it would no longer operate a tanker. In its place, a plan was devised to utilize long lays of 5" hose to relay water to a fire scene. On September 5th, 2001 a 1050 gpm Freightliner FL 70 pumper was delivered from Superior Fire Apparatus of Red Deer Alberta at a total cost of $181,000. February 2002 saw the return to service of our rescue truck from Lantz Truck Bodies on a four door International 3 ton chassis at a cost of $125,000. In total, the department asked the community to support the purchase of over $300,000 worth of upgrades. This project was completed on time and budget and was completely paid for in six years through the efforts of department fundraising and tax revenue.
By now the department was prepared for and responding to far more than just fires. Training had taken place and equipment acquired to deal with medical emergencies, spills of dangerous chemicals, water and ice rescue emergencies, vehicle and machinery entrapments and the rescue of persons from heights or remote locations through the use of rope and rappel techniques were available.
The department responds to in excess of fifty calls for assistance each year. These calls for assistance range from fires and motor vehicle accidents to medical emergencies and water rescues. The department is the initial first responder to medical emergencies within our communities followed up by an ambulance and paramedics of EHS Nova Scotia.
Today the department is known as Blandford and Area Fire Rescue, after a name change in 2005 to better reflect the services that we provide. Although we operate with far fewer members today than in years past, the nature of what we do is still the same.
Over the years, more than one hundred and fifty men and women have served the community as emergency responders. These civic minded individuals have given freely of themselves for those in need and today stand ready to aid those in need wherever and whenever that need arises regardless of weather or time of day.
During forty four years of operation the following persons have served as First Captain or Fire Chief: Harold Cleveland, Earl Publicover, Lamont Publicover, Stuart Gates, Marshal Hector, Brent Leblanc and Philip Publicover. Both Marshal and Phillip have served the the community for several terms as Fire Chief.
This report was respectfully prepared by Philip Publicover, Fire Chief, with information supplied from the records of Blandford and Area Fire Rescue, Hubbards and District Volunteer Fire Department and personal accounts of members past and present. December 31, 2008