A DEDICATED GROUP OF PROFESSIONALS PROUDLY SERVING
THEIR COMMUNITY FOR MORE THAN 150 YEARS
The year was 1850. In a small village called Sydenham, the Village Council approved a budget that included the purchase of firefighting equipment. The Council also appointed 30 men to serve on a volunteer fire brigade. This method of fire fighting was often referred to as a "bucket brigade" (meaning buckets of water were passed down a line of men from a water source to the fire).
In 1857, the name Owen Sound was officially adopted and Owen Sound was incorporated as a town. The method of fighting fires was upgraded in 1891 with the purchase of a new fleet of horse drawn equipment including a pumper engine and a hook and ladder engine. The Council passed a bylaw in 1907 to hire 14 full time fire fighters; in 1917, the number was increased to 28. The fire fighters worked 6 days a week and were on call 23 hours a day. They were allowed 1 hour a day to eat a decent meal.
The fire department added a motorized fire truck to its fleet in 1917. Owen Sound was incorporated as a city in 1920. In 1922, suits for the firemen cost $42 apiece at Thompson Brothers and fire boots cost $4.75 a pair at the Wilkinson Shoe Store
Up until 1923, the fire department operated with just one truck; the rest were horse-drawn vehicles. Keeping the extinguishers filled while out on a call pretty much tied up one fireman for the duration of the fire. The firemen's suits cost $43 each in 1923 with an additional cost of $11 for each pair of pants. Due to the high number of chimney fires in frame homes, it became illegal to construct a frame home in Owen Sound after 1923.
In 1923, after several years of debate, Council voted 7-6 to purchase a new truck. Built to the Mayor's and clerk's written specifications, the city purchased a pumper truck built by American LaFrance for $15,000 plus tax. Its arrival on June 11 by the Canadian National train was cause for citywide excitement.
Officially known as a Number 75 triple combination truck and pumper, it had a wheel base of 156-1/2", a guaranteed pump capacity of 600 gallons per minute and was capable of up to 55 miles per hour. Almost all of its metal parts were trimmed in nickel. This unit was used until 1954, when it was replaced but kept as a reserve until 1967.
At the close of 1923, 29 fireboxes were located at strategic points throughout Owen Sound. Chimney fires were the cause of most of the fires during this time period. The firemen were summoned to the firehall by the ringing of the big bell located there.
In 1924, the two horses--Ted and Sandy--that had pulled the ladder truck for many years, were retired. By February, their replacements--Queen and Jack--were in place. Several times during the winter months, the hook and ladder sleigh had to be used due to the high drifts. Horses were used to pull fire equipment vehicles until 1939.
Despite the fire department being understaffed in 1924, Council turned down a request for two more firemen. They did vote in support of money for uniforms, however. A total of $575 financed both uniforms and motor licence costs for the firetruck drivers. A total of 167 fire calls that year cost the city $16,315.
When, on one day in 1925, the firemen were called out to five different fires within the space of fifteen minutes, City Council finally saw the need for another firetruck. Ordered from Stratford, the new truck was a two-ton, six-cylinder Reo Chassis purchased at a cost of $2500. Equipment was used from the old truck to save money. Local carriage maker, James Lenehan, manufactured the box on the car and painted it red with gold stripes--the same colours as the old wagon. It was able to do 50 m.p.h. on flat terrain. The new Universal grappling irons were put to use almost immediately in a drowning accident. The 1000 feet of new hose cost $1.70 per foot.
As of 1925, satisfactory arrangements had not been worked out between Council and the fire department for fires occurring in rural areas outside of the city limits. On September 9, when the town fire department did not respond to a fire at a summer cottage, the result was a new agreement between the two parties. It was agreed a minimum of $20 per hour would charged for those fire calls dealt with by the fire department outside the city limits.
During the 1960s, fire departments began to place more emphasis on fire prevention. The Owen Sound Fire Department now has 2 full time Fire Prevention Professionals.