With intense fires gripping the west coast, fire safety is at the forefront of people’s minds. In Chilliwack today, we are fortunate to have 6 fire halls located throughout the City, staffed with firefighters, career and on-call alike, along with numerous volunteer fire departments stationed in more rural locations. While the bravery and determination of these men and women has remained constant over time, the vehicles used to fight fires in Chilliwack have changed substantially.
Man-Power: The Origins of Firefighting Vehicles in Chilliwack
Based out of the blacksmith’s shop on Main Street owned by Chilliwack’s first Fire Chief, Thomas Knight Jr., the first brigade was formed shortly after the Wellington Street Fire in 1906. The original brigade was comprised of 27 volunteers who, in the event of a fire, were summoned to duty by sounding the church bell located at Cooke’s Presbyterian Church.
The first piece of equipment purchased by the newly founded brigade was a hand-drawn hose reel. Bought for the tidy sum of $100.00 from the City of Kamloops in 1906 (accounting for inflation, this amounts to more than $2,176 today), the hose reel was mounted on two large wooden spoke wheels and required four individuals to move. Once the hose reel was in place near the fire, the hose would be unwound and a nearby water source would be located to extinguish the fire. The hand-drawn fire hose cart, still in existence today, is proudly on display by the Chilliwack Fire Department at Chilliwack Fire Hall No. 1.
At the Chilliwack Museum and Archives, we are fortunate to have a small fragment of the original hose cart in our collection. The portion of wood water pipe, reinforced with wire, formed part of the unit’s central drum. It was removed in 2006 during the restoration of the hose cart.
Old-fashioned Horse-Power:To supplement the hand-drawn hose reel, the brigade also invested in a horse-drawn hose and ladder wagon that same year. While at least two wagons were considered for purchase, the wagon offered by the City of Vancouver was acquired for $100.00. As the name infers, the horse-drawn hose and ladder wagon, unlike the hose reel, relied on the use of horses to be transported to and from fires. Chilliwack Fire Department 1906-2006: The First 100 mentions that Chilliwack firefighters regularly jockeyed for the opportunity to have their teams of horses pull the wagon. Upon hearing the fire bell, firefighters raced to see who could arrive with their horse teams at the wagon first. Winning the informal competition provided not only a sense of civic pride for local firefighters, but also came with a small sum for temporary use of the horses.
Horse-Power Minus the Horses: Motorization of Fire Fighting
As time wore on and technology advanced, both the hand-drawn hose reel and the horse-drawn hose and ladder wagon were replaced with modern vehicles. With mass production of automobiles coming into its own in the early 20th century, the fire brigade bought its first motorized fire truck, a Ford Model-T, in 1925. Other examples of fire trucks soon followed suit within various fire halls throughout the community, including a volunteer-built fire truck for the Rosedale Fire Department in 1948.