Port Hardy Fire Rescue: 50 years in the making

“Basically, the town had a few big fires and they had no fire department”

Port Hardy Fire Rescue (PHFR) is turning 50 years old this year, but the history behind how the fire department officially came to be is shrouded in a bit of mystery.

North Island Gazette Editor Tyson Whitney sat down with three Port Hardy Fire Chiefs who have more than 60 years of fire fighting experience combined, to set the record straight.

“Basically, the town had a few big fires and they had no fire department,” said former Port Hardy Fire Chief Les Storey (who joined the fire department in 1971). “Each time they said ‘we gotta do something’, and eventually the department formed in 1968.”

Storey pointed out “the municipality had existed for two years at that point, so they formed a fire bylaw and went from there. It took quite a while, and there’s missing numbers in the early numbering sequence — They said ‘we’re not sure who we gave numbers to, so we’ll just start again at 20’. It was so informal at the time, people just came in and were given a number. It wasn’t until the mid-70s when things started to get official.”

When asked who the first fire chief was, current Port Hardy Fire Chief Brent Borg stated that through his research, “a couple of names came up, Jack Sanderson and Al Sloan — apparently Sanderson was the first fire chief unofficially, because in our books it’s Al Woodhouse, he’s number one on our roster.”

Borg estimated there was “probably a dozen” members when the fire department first became an official department, and the original fire hall was at 8760 Main Street, where the Port Hardy Hospital Auxiliary is currently located.

Sometime in the 1970s-1980s, a second fire hall popped up out at Storey’s Beach, and then in 1993 another fire hall was built at 8890 Central Street, which is where PHFR continues to hang their gear up to this very day.

Over the 50 years of fighting fires, PHFR has attended many difficult calls, with Borg stating the fire at Alpha Processing (where Marine Harvest is currently located) in 2003 was “a big loss.”

Borg said he remembers looking over the hillside at the destroyed building and thinking “this is going to change Port Hardy.”

The salmon processing plant employed roughly 245 workers, but was thankfully rebuilt soon after and went back into business.

The District of Port Hardy has always been willing to purchase fire protection equipment/apparatus for the department, most recently spending 1.1 million dollars on Ladder 17, a state of the art fire truck that features an extendible ladder that can reach the tallest buildings in the district, which is “probably the biggest purchase the district has ever made for fire protection,” said Borg.

As for stipends being given to the heads of the department, “They’ve always given us something,” said Storey, “but it was never about the money.”

Back in January of 2018, the District of Port Hardy agreed to move to a paid on-call model, where all members of the department who put in hours during fire calls, training nights, and weekend hall duties, will benefit.

Borg was proud to point out that “Since the incorporation of the department, there have been 275 members that have come through these doors — and any of those people know the dedication and commitment it takes to be a part of the fire service. We have a huge responsibility on our shoulders and we all take it very seriously. We have six apparatus, two halls, 30 members, and peoples lives and property in our hands.”

The fire department will be celebrating its 50th birthday with a traditional Firefighters Ball at the Don Cruickshank Arena on Saturday, June 30.

Tickets are currently only on sale for firefighters right now, but the department is aiming to open up ticket sales to the public later in May.

Please contact Borg (250-230-0341) if you were ever a member of Port Hardy Fire Rescue, or know someone who was a member in the past and want to attend the ball.

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