Stittsville's volunteer firefighters in front of Station 81. Photo by Barry Gray.

Volunteer firefighters continue 70-year tradition in Stittsville

(Above: Stittsville’s volunteer firefighters in front of Station 81. Photo by Barry Gray.)

Stittsville’s main fire station is still staffed by volunteers, who are part of a community tradition that dates back to the 1940s.

Brian Bedard, a volunteer since 1977 and now captain of Station 81 on Stittsville Main Street, was the guest speaker at a talk hosted by the Goulbourn Historical Society on May 16.

“We play the same role as professional firefighters. The only difference is, where we are when we get the call, and what we get paid.  You could be asleep at home, when the pager goes of, you gotta respond,” he says.

Bedard, who retired from a career at Canada Post, says he still enjoys volunteering after nearly 40 years.

“When it’s not fun anymore and I don’t enjoy going to the firehall, then I’ll quit,” he said.

Brian Bedard, captain of Station 81.
Brian Bedard, captain of Station 81.

 

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Stittsville’s volunteer fire department has evolved considerably since it was established in 1943.  That year, there was a fire at Bradley’s Grist Mill in Stittsville.  Since there was no fire department in the area, the village had to wait for the Nepean Fire Department to respond, who later sent them a bill for $125.

That incident led to the establishment of the Stittsville Fire Department.  The first fire truck was a hand-me-down GMC from the Ottawa Fire Department that was refurbished and repainted.

The fire department was a very informal group in the early years. If there was a fire, any men who were available would assemble and help put it out.

Ann McCooeye, wife of former chief Elroy McCooeye, said when she came to Stittsville from Toronto in the 1950s she was shocked at the casual nature of the fire department. Equipment was poor, and she remembers men fighting grass fires bare-chested.

Eventually, training and organization would improve, along with a “mutual aid” agreement between neighbouring municipalities such as Kanata, Beckworth and Rideau Township.

The first “rescue van” (ambulance) was a re-purposed Bell Canada van, acquired by a resourceful volunteer in the mid-1980s.

Goulbourn Township bought the first ladder truck in 1987 for $315,000.  It was bright yellow and nicknamed “Tweety Bird”.  That purchase came after a somewhat embarrassing incident in Munster, when the fire department had to commandeer a hydro bucket truck to fight a second-storey fire.

Today, there are 29 volunteer firefighters in Stittsville, and 147 volunteers in the district, including also Richmond, North Gower and  Corkery.  Station 81 on Stittsville Main Street is staffed entirely by volunteers, and Station 41 on Iber Road includes volunteers and full-timers.

Volunteers in Stittsville now include men and women. Most have regular full time jobs. They train every Monday night, and they do get remunerated for their time. Officers receive an honorarium in additional to remuneration.

Stittsville Volunteer Firefighter crest

Equipment room at Station 81

Sector Chief Todd Horricks said at the presentation that it’s getting harder to retain volunteer firefighters in Stittsville.  As the community grows, more and more calls come in for everything from fires to motor vehicle accidents to medical incidents.  That takes up more of a volunteer’s time compared to 10 or 15 years ago.

Horricks says there are procedures in place to ensure that the community gets the best service delivery possible.

DOORS OPEN OTTAWA

Station 81 on Stittsville Main Street is one of the buildings participating in Doors Open Ottawa on Saturday, June 6 from 10am-4pm.

“It’s a big, beautiful firehall,” said Bedard.  “Not a station in the city compares to this one!  They call this the Taj Mahal of the city.  Other volunteers see it and say, ‘Wow, nice station!'”

The firehall opened in 2000 and is known as the Sterling Howie Firehall.  Howie was a 40-year firefighter, a former district chief, and captain who passed away 2010.

“He was my mentor, my hero,” said Bedard.

The fire station's old siren is still standing behind the library. It was in use from 1955 until the early 1980s when a seniors residence was built next door.
The fire station’s old siren is still standing behind the library. It was in use from 1955 until the early 1980s when a seniors residence was built next door.

 

The station's 1929 Buick Pumper. In use until the 1960s, now it's used for community events like the annual Santa parade.
The station’s 1929 Buick Pumper. In use until the 1960s, now it’s used for community events like the annual Santa parade.

 

Stittsville fire department's first ladder truck, nicknamed "Tweety Bird".
Stittsville fire department’s first ladder truck, nicknamed “Tweety Bird”.

 


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