Brigade hon­ours legacy of for­mer chief

Bay Roberts Chief Wal­ter Baggs re­mem­bered for his ser­vice, strong lead­er­ship


The Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment marked its 68th year of ser­vice to the town by rec­og­niz­ing a man whose im­print on the brigade will likely be un­matched for many years to come.

The an­nual fire­fight­ers’ ball, held at the Lions Club in Co­ley’s Point on April 2, was ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of the late Wal­ter David­son Baggs, who served as chief for an as­ton­ish­ing 39 years. He re­tired in 1992.

Baggs passed away Dec. 11 at the age of 88.

Baggs was one of the found­ing mem­bers of the depart­ment, and saw it through many changes and ad­vances dur­ing his many years of in­volve­ment.

He was noted for his sto­ry­telling, quick wit, strong lead­er­ship and un­tir­ing ded­i­ca­tion. He was de­scribed as a leader who never sought re­wards or credit for his ser­vice.

“He was a tough boss,” said vet­eran fire­fighter Ger­ald French, who worked along­side Baggs for many years and re­ceived a pin on April 2 to mark his 35 years of ser­vice to the brigade.

“He ran a tight ship. But he had to. It was like ev­ery­thing at that time. We didn’t have much equip­ment; not like to­day. At that time we had one pumper.”

Baggs was also a long-time mem­ber and leader with the Bay Roberts Lions Club and the Ma­sonic Lodge. He served on the town coun­cil for two terms, was an ac­tive mem­ber of the United Church, and was a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Bay Arena As­so­ci­a­tion.

He was named the town’s vol­un­teer of the year in 1996 and 2002, and was a mem­ber of the Bac­calieu Trail Board of Trade Hall of Fame.

In 2008, the fire depart­ment rec­og­nized their for­mer chief by un­veil­ing the Chief Wal­ter D. Baggs Fire­fight­ers’ Gar­dens near the fire hall on Wa­ter Street.

A strong brigade

To­day’s ver­sion of the Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment is welle­quipped, highly trained and mo­ti­vated, with Chief Clarence Rus­sell at the helm.

French, who is wind­ing down his ca­reer as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter, said the brigade is in good hands.

“It has ad­vanced a long way from 35 years ago,” French said. He said ad­vances in breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tuses, pro­tec­tive equip­ment and hy­draulic res­cue tools such as the “ Jaw of Life,” com­bined with the ea­ger­ness among a new gen­er­a­tion of fire­fight­ers to learn the craft, means area res­i­dents and their prop­er­ties are bet­ter pro­tected than ever be­fore.

“ They have the knowl­edge and they’re very ca­pa­ble,” French said of the younger fire­fight­ers in the ranks.

Asked why he has served so long with the fire depart­ment, French said it “gets in your blood.” Two oth­ers, New­man Parsons and Eric Nor­man, have served even longer on the brigade.

Town fully sup­port­ive

The mood at this year’s an­nual ball was tem­pered by a re­cent tragedy in Listowel, Ont., which saw two vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers killed when the roof of a burn­ing store col­lapsed, trap­ping them in­side.

Bay Roberts Mayor Glenn Lit­tle­john said it’s the worst fear of ev­ery town.

“My great­est fear un­til I hear the trucks come home and ev­ery­body comes home, is that we haven’t had a fa­tal­ity or we haven’t had no­body hurt,” Lit­tle­john stated.

He of­fered re­as­sur­ances to the depart­ment that the town is fully sup­port­ive of their ef­forts, and said re­cent in­vest­ments are proof of this.

“ We want to make sure you have the best equip­ment, you have the best train­ing, and we’re very proud of the work we’ve done over the past num­ber of years to im­prove the equip­ment that you have, and also help you build a train­ing fa­cil­ity that not only you use, but other fire de­part­ments in the re­gion can use. That makes you bet­ter equipped to do the work you need to do,” he said.

“Never doubt that the town is not be­hind you 100 per cent, be­cause we are. And we re­spect you and we thank you.”

Lit­tle­john said the town could not ex­ist with­out a vi­brant, ef­fec­tive and efficient fire depart­ment, ready to an­swer the call.

“ Town coun­cils can come and go. Coun­cil­lors can come and go. But if we don’t have a vi­brant, ef­fec­tive and efficient unit work­ing as vol­un­teer fire­men, the safety of ev­ery res­i­dent in our town and the towns that we serve, and the other towns we pro­vide as­sis­tance to when called upon, they wouldn’t be safe.

“I want to thank you for all the time that you give. You give it un­selfishly,” he said.

There were plenty of light mo­ments at the Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment’s an­nual ball on April 2, with most of them pro­vided by Kevin Smith, shown here dur­ing one of sev­eral skits per­formed dur­ing the evening.

Re­ceiv­ing 20-year ser­vice pins from the Bay Roberts Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment at April 2 were, from left, chief op­er­a­tor Richard Shep­pard, fire chief Clarence Rus­sell, and as­sis­tant fire chief and fire cap­tain Kevin Green­land.

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