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.