A HISTORY OF THE QUESNEL FIRE DEPARTMENT
By Bob Hendry, Ex. Asst. Fire Chief
This article was written in 1981, for insertion into the program for the 50th Annual Conference and Fire College, held in Quesnel for the BC Fire Chiefs’ Association.
Early records show that in all truth, the Quesnel Volunteer Fire Department did evolve from a bucket brigade, Prior to 1910, the village was chiefly one main street fronting the Fraser River, with a cross street (Carson Avenue) running at right angles toward the Quesnel River. Both of these rivers served many times as a source of water for fire fighting, though usually the fire loss was complete and extensive.
In many cases of large fires, the fair sex was called upon to form a chain and advance the leather buckets from river to fire. Early pictures show a windmill pump mounted on the river bank and records show snowballs to be standard winter equipment.
In 1910, the Board of Trade brought some semblance of organization to fire control. Meetings were held and plans made, only to lay dormant chiefly through lack of funds, there being no system of taxation. So fire protection still relied on the bucket brigade, with help from a very active and willing Chinese community, complete with neck yokes, water pails made from coal oil cans, and a type of primitive brass pump similar to a stirrup pump.
The year 1928 brought incorporation as a village, and with the advent of taxation, a small water system was laid and four hydrants attached. At this time, fire equipment was extended to include a remodeled 1924 Olds Touring with 400 feet of 2-1/2 hose, a short ladder and two soda-acid extinguishers. This equipment provided all the fire protection for many years. The author will attest that when he took over in 1938 as caretaker and resident driver, the Olds Touring was still the only piece of rolling stock . . . and often needed a good deal of rolling to start!
At this time, the hose complement had been increased to some 750 feet of 21/2″; a foam extinguisher, replacing one of the soda-acid type; two 21/2″ handled playpipes (combination nozzles were still to be designed); a 24-foot wooden extension ladder; and leather buckets hanging from a pipe rack. The water system had expanded and 12 or 14 hydrants installed.
The Olds Touring was retired in early 1940 when Beath Motors rebuilt a 1934 Ford for fire fighting. This was still not a pumper, and the department relied entirely on main pressure from the hydrants put in use.
With incorporation in 1928, the town appointed as Fire Chief, Fred Pinchbeck, who served well and ably in this capacity until moving to Kamloops in 1934. Fred was succeeded by George McNaughton, a fiery little man, who capably handled all fires until 1942.
That year, our present chief, Chuck Beath, was given the task, and for the first time, regular drills and practices were held. At this writing (June 1981, Chief Beath has voluntarily given our department 39 years of superb leadership as Fire Chief, in addition to 10 years prior service as a volunteer fireman.
As association was formed in 1942 to give brigade members some form of social activity, and it is from this date the present department takes origin. Chief Beath was voted president, a position he popularly held for 22 years. Present membership stands at 38 Active and 20 Associate members. Associate members must put in a minimum of 15 years in the Active crew. Meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month, and regular practices held the other three Tuesdays. A Social Committee and Games Committee provide numerous events and amusement throughout the year, culminating in an annual banquet in November.
Members pay dues amounting to $3.00 annually and receive no remuneration for fire calls or practices. As a matter of note, with the exception of two paid regular firemen, we are probably the only non-paid volunteer fire department in B.C. In other fire departments, volunteers are paid by call-outs and practices attended. To date, 29 of our members have received 20-year service certificates.
Under Chief Beath’s vigorous and able leadership and the help of a conscientious staff of officers, the department has grown to its present high standard of efficiency. On the paid staff at present, we have Deputy Fire Chief Ray Beaulieu and Lieutenant Dale Carlson. Names of all changes of officers in brigade and association, as well as a host of other information, are all recorded in the department archives kept up by the historian.
In 1947, an International 600 g.p.m. pumper (ex RCAF) was placed in the new addition to the old firehall. The town water system was again extended and many more hydrants added. A fire alarm call box system and decoder was purchased with Association funds and installed by the town. At this time, an inhalator, the first in the area, was added to the equipment.
In 1953, lumber and logging boomed in the area, resulting in more than 45 small sawmills operating within a 10-mile radius of town. This hastened the purchase of a second pumper – a two-ton Fargo with front-mounted 300 g.p.m. pump and 250 gallon water supply. This unit was purchased partly through community subscription, industrial and Western Plywood participation.
The present City Hall and Firehall were completed in 1958. Firemen now have a large meeting or recreation room, game room, kitchen and other facilities. A control room, workshop area, and chief’s office were added to the main hall in 1968. Two more bays and a larger work area were completed in 1979.
Thanks to a donation from an active Lions Club, the department has a 1961 Ford station wagon- this was used for a number of years as an emergency inhalator and rescue vehicle. It is now the officers’ car and is used mostly in fire preventative maintenance service. A new La France 650 g.p.m. triple combination pumper with 500 gallon water supply was purchased in 1963. Fire regulated areas bordering the town came under department control in 1964, necessitating the purchase of a 2000 gallon water truck with rear mounted auxiliary pump. Then in 1971, a Pierre Thibeault combination 75-foot aerial ladder and quad pumper was added to the fleet. In 1974, a custom built rescue and personnel vehicle, on a one-ton chassis, was added. In 1975, a new 5 c.f.m. Bauer compressor was placed in the shop, enabling us to refill the many air cylinders used in our self-contained M.S.A. smoke masks. New equipment recently added includes: in 1976 a 1971 International diesel tanker, 1500 gallons; in 1979 a Ford 900 g.p.m. pumper; and in 1980 a Ford station wagon (chief’s).
With the coming of dial telephones, a new alarm system was installed, doing away with the old call boxes. We have 20 Plectron type portable alerting and communications systems and 20 Motorola Minitors placed in volunteers’ homes. All vehicles have Motorola Civilian Band radios with a master base station at the hall. In addition, two smoke masks are equipped with two way communications.
Industrial fire departments are active at Weldwood Plywood Plant, West Fraser Sawmills, and Cariboo Pulp and Paper, working in conjunction with our department. Plans are now completed for an auxiliary fire hall in Red Bluff.
The town water supply has been extended to include five pumping stations, three booster stations, three large reservoirs, and some 210 hydrants. New hose and modern equipment are added each year. Officers attending Fire College train the crews in new methods, and in 1964 honored our town by hosting the Annual B.C. Fire Chiefs Convention. Happily this honor is being repeated this year, 1981. Truly a long step from the days of the old bucket brigade.