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.”

Photo by Andrew Robin­son/The Com­pass

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.

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