Ready and willing 175 years later
Carbonear fire brigade celebrates major anniversary
If they could time travel, Brent Sweeney reckons firefighters from the 1840s wouldn’t know what to make of the gear their modern comrades use today.
“Looking back at all our history really gives you an appreciation of our past members,” the fire chief said at a special dinner honouring the Carbonear Volunteer Fire Department’s 175th anniversary.
It is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have. — Duane Antle
“They did things the hard way. There’s no doubt in my mind if the members of our fire department back in 1841 were to return today, they’d be amazed at how different our department has become. It has come a long way from buckets to a hand cart … They had no support groups to turn to in dealing with tragic events. They had no warming centres. They had nothing. They had no snow plows to go ahead of them.”
The fire chief was among several speakers who took time July 16 to celebrate the work firefighters do. Almost 200 people were on hand for the event at Fong’s Restaurant and Motel, including Carbonear Mayor George Butt Jr., Avalon MP Ken MacDonald and local MHA Steve Crocker.
Carbonear native Duane Antle is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services, and he spoke passionately about the importance of firefighters.
“If anybody doesn’t understand the realities of what a volunteer firefighter has to do when they go out and answer those calls, go talk to some of those chiefs who have lost people on fire scenes,” he said. “And not because they didn’t do things properly or because they didn’t have gear or because they didn’t do everything right. It’s because the reality of our business is it’s very dangerous.
It is one of the most dangerous jobs you can have.”
When they do go out on call, many firefighters leave behind a family at home. Antle said those people are left to only wonder about the situation their loved ones might face.
“If my wife came to me today and said, ‘Duane, I’m going to take on a job. It doesn’t pay very well. Actually, I’m going to have to spend a lot of my own money to do it. I’m going to be spending a lot of time away from you. I’m going to be taking away from family time. I’m going to be going out and seeing things and doing things that are going to be giving me nightmares … By the way, I could lose my life doing this.’ I would say no, you’re not doing it, because I’m not that brave. Just imagine how brave it is for those people who are staying home … to support us.”
Eddie Joyce, the minister responsible for fire and emergency services, noted that firefighters living in small communities often find themselves responding to situations involving people they know. He’s met firefighters before who’ve told him it’s the worst part of the job.
“Once they get there, the professionalism takes over and they do their job. They always said that’s the worst part of it. Not knowing what you’re going to face — especially when there’s kids involved.”
A number of presentations were made to the department over the course of the night, and an original painting was unveiled, created especially for the anniversary by Michelle Penney-Rowe and Tammy Wrice. Prints of that painting are available for sale at Ocean View Art Gallery, with the original set to hang at the local fire hall.
Firefighter Ken Burke passes a flower to one of the attendees of the Carbonear Volunteer Fire Department’s 175th anniversary dinner and dance.
Janice Sweeney, president of the Ladies Auxiliary, presents a cheque and plaque to her husband, Chief Brent Sweeney.
Members of the Carbonear fire department’s 175th anniversary committee stand next to a newly unveiled piece of art created and donated to the brigade by local artists Michelle Penney-Rowe and Tammy Wrice. Picture, from the left, are Hon. FF George Power, FF Richard Rossiter, FF Jimmy Harris, Hon. Paul Finn, FF Steve Barrett, FF Ed Kavangh, FF Ken Burke, FF Scott Mullins, FF Brian Green and Chief Brent Sweeney.