Fire Fighting in Richmond
Steveston Fire Department
The evolvement of fire fighting in Richmond began in Steveston around 1912. During this time, Steveston was a bustling cannery community and the need for fire protection was acute.
While details of the structure of this department are quite sketchy to say the least, it is known that a full-time Fire Chief was employed and commanded a force of twenty-four fire fighters.
It is also known that the canneries in the area purchased a hand operated fire pumper for fire protection but it is not known when it was purchased. It is known, however, that this piece of apparatus was acquired from a community in the United States and was used by the San Francisco Fire Department during the Great Earthquake of 1906.
Around 1917, for reasons unknown, the Steveston Department was dissolved and passed into obscurity. The hand-operated pumper sat and gathered dust for many years before it was finally sold as junk.
Historical Photographs can be viewed in the City Hall section under City Archives> Search Archives> Photo Search.
Brighouse Volunteer Fire Department
On November 24, 1922, a public meeting of the Brighouse-Garden City area residents was held with the sole purpose being the formation of a Volunteer Fire Department. Three days later the Brighouse Volunteer Fire Department became a reality. Mr. E.W. Ackroyd was elected Fire Chief and commanded a force of ten fire fighters in the initial stages.
Upon organization, the department was run very well and they were able to induce a $100 grant from Municipal Council and an entertainment committee was set up to raise necessary funds. They were also able to secure blanket insurance coverage for their members and purchase various forms of fire equipment. In March 1923, arrangements were made to use the police telephone for the receipt of fire calls and response to calls became of a mechanized nature when two members of the brigade acquired Model “T” Fords.
Things seemed to run very smoothly for the brigade and then suddenly in 1924, the brigade ceased to exist. No reason is given for their demise but perusal of minutes suggests internal conflict and lack of members.
From the time of the downfall of the brigade until the opening months of World War II, there was no form of fire protection in Richmond. Although there are no records, it is believed that any major fires in the area were handled through the Vancouver Fire Department.
Air Raid Protection (A.R.P.)
With the outbreak of World War II came the first form of organized fire protection to encompass the entire island. With the outbreak of war came the formation of an organization called Air Raid Protection (A.R.P.).
It was the responsibility of this organization to form the necessary plans needed by a community in case of enemy attack. Included in these plans was the formation of districts; in order to provide necessary fire protection.
Richmond was divided into six districts, brigades mustered, and each brigade undertook the necessary task of building fire protection equipment. Each brigade was responsible for building their own vehicle and acquiring the necessary equipment.
Essentially, each vehicle was the same, an open cab truck on a commercial chassis. A gasoline engine was mounted behind the cab to drive the 150 G.P.M. pumps. Equipment included ladders, hose, axes, and extinguishers. Due to construction, these brigades did not see actual service until around 1942.
The brigades were able to function in a normal manner until the end of the war, and then with peace came the disbandment of the A.R.P. and the brigades. However, the vehicles remained in their districts and responded to calls but in a very loose and disorganized manner.
Central Fire Committee
Fire protection for the island was again turned over to the Vancouver Fire Department and remained as such for several years. In 1947, the brigades started to reform and fell under the Central Fire Committee.
The only brigade that did not organize at this time was Sea Island. They did continue as a department in an exceptionally loose manner under W.E. (Wilf) Clark. Under his direction, some calls were responded to but it was all very informal and no records were kept. In 1952, the Sea Island Brigade reformed and fell under the Central Fire Committee also.
The inaugural meeting of the Central Fire Committee was held in March 1946. The committee consisted of the Reeve, council members and a representative from each fire brigade. The basic function of the committee was to bring the department to an organized level and to allow for the proper budgeting of each department.
Years of Growth and Transition
During the ensuing years, newer equipment replaced the older, and now outdated, A.R.P. vehicles. Brighouse acquired a 1942 Chevrolet front-mount pump; Steveston, a 1942 Ford midship pump. Both were capable of pumping 500 G.P.M.
In 1950, Bridgeport completed the construction of a 1948 midship pump also capable of 500 G.P.M. All these vehicles carried between 1,500 to 2,000 feet of fire hose plus a full complement of ladders and related equipment.
A new era for fire department involvement in the community was ushered in during 1949 when the Lions Club donated an inhalator van to the department. For the first time the citizens could now rely on trained fire department volunteers with the proper equipment to tend to their medical emergencies. This valuable service was started by dedicated volunteers and carried on today by the paid fire fighters of the department.
Several years later, in 1953, a new pumper was acquired for the Steveston Brigade. Trucks were reshuffled to get rid of the older A.R.P. vehicles. Policy dictated that as new equipment was brought into the community, the older equipment be retired.
The year 1956 saw the first steps to a paid fire department. Five fire fighters were initially hired to staff the fire halls during the daylight hours. These fire fighters worked five days a week with weekends off. During the evenings and weekends the department still operated on a volunteer response basis.
Also during that year, a full-time Fire Warden was hired and plans for a new Bridgeport Fire Hall announced. Two more fire fighters were hired to work in the Brighouse Hall.
The fire department entered a new era of construction, new equipment and full-time fire fighters. In 1950, East Richmond was using an old shed to house their fire apparatus and at that time the construction of a new hall was begun.
Through various stages, the hall was completed in 1960, as it stands today. Things moved rapidly; a well organized volunteer department supplemented by paid fire fighters. Fire fighters fell under the Workers’ Compensation Act, a paid fire chief was hired and pensions were initiated for paid fire fighters.
A LaFrance pumper was acquired in 1959, and the inhalator service expanded in 1961 with the acquisition of a rescue truck.
A Paid Workforce Grows
A period of transition also occurred regarding the manpower situation within the department. Slowly, the number of paid fire fighters crept up. By the end of 1967, the number of paid fire fighters stood at thirty-seven. Each hall, with the exception of East Richmond, had a fire fighter on duty twenty-four hours a day. There were four to five fire fighters on duty at No. 1 Hall in Brighouse. The volunteer departments were still at full strength and well organized.
Then suddenly, towards the end of 1969, under pressure from the fire fighters’ local and various citizens’ groups, a major hiring plan for fire fighters was started. For several years, major hiring of fire fighters, in groups of nine or more, was seen bringing the manpower to one hundred.
Era of Volunteer Fire Fighting Ends
This brought the downfall of the volunteer groups. Sea Island resigned in 1969 with Brighouse and Bridgeport following shortly thereafter. Steveston resigned in January 1972, after the opening of a new fire hall out of Steveston proper.
On June 16, 1973, the last of the volunteer brigades passes into history, namely, East Richmond.
The sacrifice the personnel have given their community, the dedication and courage they have displayed, cannot be overlooked. If it were not for them, this community would be in dire shape.
They had given of themselves something most people will never understand. From their ranks has come the nucleus of a well organized, paid fire department.
The history of this department has been shaky and disorganized at times, but has received dedication. New equipment is being purchased and fire fighters are being hired.
New pages of history are written into this department, as each day progresses. We have experienced the trauma of an on-duty death. That is also part of history. As this department grows, so do the stories that go with it.