Forty years of fire protection
Heart’s Content brigade celebrates anniversary with weekend events
In November 1970, the Town of Heart’s Content was a mere three years removed from incorporation and still attempting to make infrastructure upgrades to help modernize the community.
That month, the Heart’s Content Volunteer Fire Brigade came into existence. Forty years down the road, residents of the community, past and present firefighters, members from neighbouring fire departments, and local politicians got together for an April 9 banquet dedicated to the brigade’s special anniversary.
Mayor Don Blundon, Trinity-Bay de Verde MHA Charlene Johnson, and Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services president Vince Mackenzie were among the 120 on hand for the Saturday evening event. Johnson presented firefighter Danny Piercey with a pin to honour his 20 years of service.
Chief Doug Piercey is one of the department’s most senior members, though far from an old man, with almost 20 years of experience since agreeing to take his retiring father’s place on the department.
“It was a successful weekend,” said Piercey, who has been fire chief for two years. “A lot of people said it was a really good turnout.”
The weekend festivities included a wine and cheese event on Friday, the Saturday banquet, and a special Sunday church service.
The median age in the community was 48 according to the 2006 Census, but the 22-person brigade has kept its own median age at a lower level. At its peak, the department has been 30-members strong.
“ There’s 22 really good members,” said Piercey. The oldest and longest serving member, 22-year veteran Keith Smith, recently turned 50, while its youngest member, Trevor Kelly, is in his early 20s. The remainder of the fire brigade are mostly in their 30s and 40s.
“ There’s not a lot of young people here now,” added Piercey. “ The ones that can be in the fire department are pretty much it.”
Chief Piercey said his group is mindful of obtaining all the necessary training required to be a firefighter. Members did take part in multiple training sessions last fall, including a fire school, and the fire department tries to use the smokehouse near Winterton at least once a month. Attending summer training sessions can be difficult due to the fishing season, said the chief.
Prior to the formation of the department, the community depended on firefighters coming from Harbour Grace to put out blazes. Those efforts often proved futile, given the half-hour drive it took to reach the community.
“ They’d call in a fire at dinner time in the day, and what could they do ( but) sit around and watch it get gutted-out inside until the fire truck from Harbour Grace got here,” said retired firefighter Jack Smith, a founding member of the department and a former chief. “ There was nothing the residents could do — only just watch it.”
Smith said the department initially acquired a pickup truck that was almost 10 years old and included a portable pump and hose. A few years later, a miniature fire truck was purchased, which improved the department’s capabilities such that it even responded to calls in Blaketown. Its current pumper truck was purchased in 1992 and only has 6,500 kilometres on it, and the department also has an equipment van.
The big one
The Heart’s Content brigade has dealt with many blazes over the years, but the one that stands out in the minds of Piercey and Smith is the fire that destroyed the original St. Mary’s Church on May 6, 1989.
According to a story from the May 10, 1989 edition of The Compass, the fire was reported at 7:50 p.m. by Fred Sinyard, who lived a short distance from the church. It took the effort of 150 firefighters from seven departments to control the fire. The church reportedly burned to the ground in two hours. It had last been used for worship that January, having become too old and expensive to maintain. The cornerstone for the church was laid in 1880.
“ That was wicked,” said Smith, who was an active firefighter at the time. The fire spread to trees half a mile away from the church. Burnt pieces of wood were found the next day behind Holy Trinity High School, approximately 1,000 yards away, requiring the department to clean its parking lot.
“ I guess the fire created its own wind,” he said.
Were it not for the lack of wind that evening, Smith said the fire would have likely spread to nearby homes.
Equipment needs are minimal, as the pumper truck is still in good shape and there have been few major incidents in recent years. Money made from the Winter Car- nival the department holds each year goes towards purchasing new gear. This year’s event made $9,600, all of which went towards the purchase of two breathing apparatuses at a cost of $10,300. The department also received $7,700 last year from the Department of Municipal Affairs that was used to purchase another breathing apparatus.
A big part of the Winter Carnival’s success stems from the support offered by the spouses of the firefighters, who often help with organizing activities and preparing cold plates, said Chief Piercey.
The department could look into purchasing the Jaws of Life, but the fire chief said with another department having the equipment only a 10-minute drive away, there’s little point in making the $40,000 investment. Local fire departments along Trinity South are ready to lend a hand to one another if circumstances demand it, he said.
Smith is thankful that the department remains a strong force in the community.
“ I give them all the praise in the world for what they’re doing. The chief they have there now has the respect of all his crew.”
Jack Smith was a founding member of the Heart’s Content Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1970, and stuck with it for 22 years before retiring. He spent many of those years as its fire chief.