Chapter 1


Port Alberni - Pre amalgamation

The Port Alberni Fire Department was first organized in March 1912, during a meeting called by the new City Council's Public Safety Committee. Fifteen men attended the meeting, held at the home of alderman J.A. McIntyre, and agreed to form a Volunteer Fire Department.

The first Fire Chief was Richard Venables. His Assistant Chief was Peter Johnson. Two Companies were formed under Captains W. Holt and D. Rowley. The first fire practice was held June 26, 1912, at 8:00 p.m., at the C.P.R. wharf.

What follows is primarily an account of the evolution of and acquisition of equipment, vehicles and firehalls. Further chapters will document accounts of Personnel enlistments, social events and major fires.

The first fire fighting equipment was a horse drawn wagon fitted with a 60 gallon soda-acid chemical tank, a ladder wagon carrying two dozen buckets, a few nozzles, axes, crowbars and an assortment of wooden ladders, and two hand pulled hose reels each containing 500 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose.

The photograph shows a retired fire wagon in a parade on July 1, 1926. The horse drawn wagon is shown stripped of equipment due to replacement by a new motorized vehicle.

The fire apparatus was housed in Sam Roseborough's Livery Barn on Second Avenue (now the 3100 block). A fire bell tower was erected on the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and Argyle Street to alert the firemen. When a fire was reported by telephone to the nearby telephone exchange on the east side of 3rd Avenue (3000 block), Mr. Harry Mertz, the manager of the Telephone Company, would run to the tower, ring the bell, and then run down to the livery barn to tell the incoming firemen where the fire was.

It was the custom, at the sound of the fire bell, for the closest teams of horses to the livery barn to be unhooked from their loads and be hooked to the fire wagons. As an incentive to assist the Fire Department, the first team to be hooked up was paid $10.00 by the City.

Until November, 1913, when a water system with hydrants was installed, the fires were fought by bucket brigade. After that the hose reels were taken to the fire scene, most often by hand, where the hose was hooked directly to the hydrants. Chief Venables reported that the water pressure in the new system was "very good", and some wags of the day claimed that it was so good that there was a danger of the buildings being knocked down if they weren't burned up.

During the First World War years it is recorded that the Department often had difficulty obtaining manpower as so many men were away overseas.

After a positive experiment, August 23, 1916, when Fire Chief Holt used his private car to carry firemen and to pull a hose reel to the scene of a bush fire and substantially beat the time of a team of horses pulling the second reel, City Council was persuaded to purchase "mechanized equipment". A truck was ordered.

By November 22, 1916, the new fire apparatus was expected within 30 days and a new hall for it's housing was erected at Argyle Street and 5th Avenue. The truck was a ¾-ton Chevrolet, and the chemical tank complete with it's hose reel, together with 2½ inch hose and all equipment that could be carried was, loaded on.

The photograph taken in 1921 shows the 1916 truck and the firecrew of the day at the firehall on 5th Avenue. The first fire the new truck attended was on February 4th, 1917, in the Carmoor Block at the foot of Argyle Street. Charlie McNaughton was the driver. There is no record of the fire damage.

When the new firehall was built, the fire bell was hung in a tower at the rear of the Firehall. The bell was rigged up to be rung by a homemade electric powered device controlled from the telephone office. All calls were transferred to the Firehall bell by the telephone operators. This service continued right up until the dial system came into effect in 1964.

In 1928, two new Chevrolet one-ton trucks were purchased, as was a 33 foot extension ladder. The hose and chemical tank, plus the new ladder were fitted to the new trucks.

Photograph shows the two trucks at 8th Avenue & Burde Street. Photograph taken in 1932.

Since the 1916 Firehall was a single-bay hall, and the City was expanding to the north and northwest, and, in 1928 the City had purchased two new fire trucks, there was need for a second location to house the second fire truck in the expanding area. This expanding area, known as the Calgary area, bounded between Dry Creek and Roger Street - (south to north) and Third Avenue to 17th Avenue - (west to east). This area was called the Calgary area because the first people to build in the area were from Calgary.

One of the trucks was housed in Pete Muller's garage at the northeast corner of 8th Avenue and Burde Street from approximately 1928/29 to 1939.

It is not known precisely when, but obviously during these years the 5th Avenue single-bay Firehall was rebuilt to be a two-bay Firehall, as evidenced by the photograph below.

The photograph was taken approximately 1939.

In 1941, a new three-bay Firehall was built at the 5th Avenue & Argyle Street site. The photograph below, although taken in 1957, is the best photograph available showing the new Firehall in it's entirety.

New Firehall, built in 1941. Photograph taken in 1957.

Shortly after the new Firehall was built, the first custom equipped fire truck was purchased. It was a 1942 2-ton International, fitted with a 400 gallon per minute pump, a booster tank with a hose reel and was able to carry 1,000 feet of firehose. One of the old 1928 Chevrolet trucks and the chemical tank were then retired.

The new truck is located to the left in the above photograph.

During the Second World War years, Civil Defence authorities supplied the Fire Department with extra equipment - trailer pumps and tanks, hose and portable pumps. Also an old Chevrolet truck was obtained and outfitted as an auxiliary fire truck. An old car was pressed into service as an equipment and crew carrier. This car was necessary as there was also two companies of auxiliary firemen formed to assist the Fire Department during the war years. What became of the Chevrolet truck, the car and the trailer pump is unknown.

This photograph is the only one available showing the truck and car, albeit they are obscured by the auxiliary personnel.

After the war ended, surplus fire equipment became available from the War Assets Corporation. Through the cooperation of Mr. Frank Kitto, the City Clerk, who pressed City Council for fast action, the Fire Department obtained first (on January 10, 1947), a 1941 3-ton International (an ex-Air Force truck) for $2,300.00. This truck served as a regular fire truck from it's purchase until 1953.

Photograph shows truck in a parade, approximately 1953.

Between 1953 and 1960, this truck was retrofitted to carry a 53 foot Nemco, 2 fly aerial ladder. This ladder was partly manually operated and partly electrically operated.

Photograph shows retrofitted truck in a parade in 1960.

Shortly after the purchase of the 1941 ex-Air Force 3-ton International, on May 2, 1947, the Fire Department obtained a 1942 2-ton Ford custom fire truck, fully equipped, for $2,000.00. This truck was obtained from the Army Camp area adjacent to Port Alberni. The photographs below show it in use during army camp days. It was manned by army personnel. The building served after the war years and until the mid 1980's as the School District's school bus barns, after which, and still, at this writing, serves as the workshop for the Industrial Heritage Society. The building is located in the 4600 block of 10th Avenue.

When the 1942 Ford fire truck was put in service at 5th Avenue, the second 1928 Chevrolet truck was retired. It was given to the Port Alberni City Works Department where it was used to haul water and sewer pipes until the early 1950's. It was then put into storage for several years. Two volunteer firemen recovered it and made it into a Clown wagon, with offset wheels. It was used by the Fire Department in parades for several years before it again was put into storage. Approximately 1987, the Fire Department re-acquired it and commenced restoring it to it's original 1928 condition. At the time of writing, this res- toration is about one half complete.

The photo shows the clown wagon in a parade in 1960.

Appearing in various pictures of the Fire Department equipment since the early 1940's and until 1965 is a car, then a sedan delivery, which were obviously the Fire Chief's official vehicles. In the written accounts there is no mention of these vehicles until 1965, when there is reference to a 1956 Ford Chief's Car (sedan delivery). However, for the record, it should be noted that there was a Chief's Car evident in photographs taken in 1941. The vehicle shown here is a coupe of approximately 1940 vintage. The photo- graph was taken in 1942. This vehicle was in use until 1955 or 1956 when it was replaced by the sedan delivery.

Fire Chief's vehicle shown is approximately 1940 vintage.

In the first week of November 1946, the City bought, for $70,000.00, 237 acres "more or less", from the Federal Government. This land, at the northeast corner of the City was used during the Second World War as an army camp. The land had on it many army-style buildings, e.g. barracks, offices, mess halls, vehicle repair shops, drill hall, etc. The City wanted the barracks buildings to help relieve the demand for housing created by the returning veterans and their young families. After the purchase, many of the barracks buildings were sectioned off and then occupied by several families. (This area is now known as the Glenwood area of the City).

To protect this property and the buildings thereon, the City, in March of 1948, purchased from the Federal War Assets Corporation, a 1939 3-ton Ford fire truck. (It had been used during the war years to protect an army camp at Terrace, B.C.). Upon delivery, the truck was stationed at the Army Camp's previous firehall located on the northwest corner of 10th Avenue and Roger Street. (Obviously this Firehall was built during the early 1940's).

Chief Venables shows the newly acquired truck to a reporter outside of the Army Camp Firehall.

The next two photographs taken later in 1948 or in 1949 show the truck with the City's initials now painted on the hood, a number assigned to it (No.4), and more equipment attached (helmets). The second photograph shows the truck in front of "No.2 Firehall". The truck is thought to be decorated to participate in the 1949 May Day Parade. It should be noted that a special brigade of seven volunteers who lived in the area, were recruited to man this vehicle.

The fire truck was sold in 1952 to MacMillan, Bloedel, Stewart & Welch. The Company moved it to the Great Central Lake Logging Division townsite (Camp 8).

See story following (old No. 4) for the subsequent history of this fire truck.

No. 4 fire truck complete with City initials and equipment.

No. 4 decorated to participate in 1949 May Day Parade.

About 1952, the now surplus N0.2 Firehall at 10th Avenue and Roger Street was used by many community groups for offices and/or storage by agreement with the City.

Finally, in 1995, the land was sold by the City to a private developer who did not want the Firehall building. So, on June 13, 1995, a contractor commenced demolishing the building. Within two days it was completely gone.

The photograph below, taken on the morning of June 13, 1995, shows the first stage of demolition with the knocking out of the interior walls.

First stages of demolition, June 13, 1995. Within two days the entire building was gone.


The following information and photos are presented strictly to track the history of the 1939 Ford Fire Truck (No. 4), because it has gone full circle, from the City and back to the City, as follows:

1952 - Because the truck was to be used to protect an active logging camp/townsite, and as the menfolk were most often away during the day, a women's brigade was formed to "man" the fire truck during the men's absence. The following photographs show the ladies of the brigade practicing with the truck in 1953. No photographs are available of the men's brigade with the truck.

Truck leaving Camp 8 Firehall c/w crew for a practice.

Ladies brigade practices with hoses, e.g. both suction and delivery.

The phasing out of the logging townsite commenced in the late 1950's and proceeded into the early 1960's. As people moved away, membership in both the ladies' and men's brigades dwindled to the point where the truck would have been operated by the M & B repair shop personnel, who would have been the only people around the area. The buildings in the townsite were being moved away or dismantled, so that by the mid 1960's and until 1973, the only buildings left were the M & B repair shop buildings. This was where the fire truck was stored until, in 1973, it was moved to the new M & B Sproat Lake Logging Division H.Q. and shops at Shoemaker Bay.

In the Spring of 1975, M & B Sproat Lake Division donated the fire truck to the Sproat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, a fire department located around the shore of Sproat Lake, with two distinct areas (Lakeshore Road & Faber Road), and a need for fire fighting equipment to cover the two areas.

L - R: Jack Moore, Manager of Central Services Division of Sproat Lake Division, and Bill Grey, Fire Warden of Sproat Lake Division, hand over the truck to S.L.V.F.D. Fire Chief Harold Bishop.

The truck was housed in the Faber Road Firehall and was used in that area from it's acquisition in 1975 until 1988.

Photograph taken in 1988 of 1939 Ford fire truck with other S.L.V.F.D. vehicles.

In 1988, S.L.V.F.D. took delivery of a new fire truck and surplused the 1939 truck. On February 8, 1988, S.L.V.F.D. donated the truck to the City's Industrial Heritage Society (a volunteer group that works under the umbrella of the Museum, and who restore and maintain heritage industrial vehicles and equipment). The fire truck is part of a small fleet of heritage vehicles (15 in number), and is housed at one of several City owned buildings, e.g. E & N Station, ex-bus barns on 10th Avenue, McLean's Mill, etc. It is displayed at various public functions such as the Fall Fair.

Early in 1947, a fire on the fishpacker, Loyal No. 1, prompted a request to City Council from the Fire Chief, Bill Venables, for a fireboat. Council concurred with the request and a 1942 - 30 foot, steel hulled, jet propelled fire tug was purchased from the American War Assets Corporation in Seattle. The vessel was registered in Nanaimo on March 29th, 1947, and obviously was delivered to Port Alberni at about the same time.

Photograph shows the Port Alberni Fire Department personnel operating the vessel while an engineer from the Provincial Fire Marshal's Office takes readings of water flow to establish the vessel's official pumping capacity.

Not long after, on May 24th, 1947, the fire boat was used at the C.P.R. dock fire, then again, on July 24, 1947, it was used at the disastrous Assembly Wharf fire. The cargo ship "San Pep" was moored to this wharf and was also badly damaged by the fire.

Moving on to 1965 - A new Chief's "Car" is purchased to replace the 1940 vintage coupe. A 1956 Ford Sedan Delivery is bought.

There is no photograph available showing this vehicle in it's entirety. What follows is a composite of two photographs wherein the front end and the back end (taken at different times) are put together to create a fairly good picture of this vehicle.

A composite photograph of the 1956 Chief's Car.

In early 1964, a new 1963 Ford Custom equipped pumper was received and replaced the 1942 2- ton Ford in first line service. The new truck had a 625 GPM pump and came with a 300 gallon water tank, hose reel, and ladders.

Photograph of new Ford fire truck. Photograph taken in the Fall of 1965.

The next vehicle replaced was the Chief's 1956 Ford sedan delivery, which was replaced with a 1966 Plymouth station wagon. Note the start of a two colour paint job on the Fire Department vehicles - the new Chief's car is red on the bottom with white on top.

Photo of Fire Department apparatus in front of Port Alberni Fire Hall (taken late fall 1966).

In early 1967 the Department purchased another new custom fire truck. This was a 1966 International, with a 1050 gallon per minute (GPM) pump, a hose reel, a 500 gallon tank and all other small equipment, e.g. hose, axes, fittings, wrenches, etc.

Photo shows new fire truck just days after it's arrival in Port Alberni.

At this time the 1942 International K-5, 420 GPM pumper was traded in to the new pumper supplier (This truck was quickly sold to Chetwynd Fire Department, having lost it's firehall and fire trucks in a late night fire!). This now gave the Department three pumper trucks, e.g. 1966, 1963, and 1942, plus, the 1941 Aerial ladder truck. In 1966, the pending amalgamation of the two Cities of Alberni and Port Alberni resulted in the construction of a new Port Alberni Firehall. It was known that the two Cities' Fire Departments would join forces and that neither of the existing Firehalls was big enough to hold the combined equipment and vehicles, and further, the locations of the two halls were not conducive to a fast response to both areas from either one. Thus a decision was taken to construct a new, large, centrally located Firehall. The new 7 bay hall was officially opened for business, August 12th, 1967. The location - 10th Ave & Bute St.

An open house for dignitaries and the public was held. Tours and demonstrations were put on by the staff.

The above photo was taken August 12th, 1967 - on the official opening day.