When Dave Bisset joined the Pitt Meadows Fire and Rescue Service, pagers were a novelty.
Nicknamed “The Brick,” they weren’t the kind firefighters could clip to their trousers.
“They were quite the technological innovation for sure,” Bisset says with a laugh.
“Up until then, we had a siren on the top of the hall.”
Created shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Pitt Meadows fire department still prides itself on being a force largely manned by volunteers.
For Bisset, the department was and perhaps still is the centre of the city – its big, red, beating heart.
“In those days, the municipality and a lot of the social life revolved around the fire department,” said Bisset, who volunteered from 1980 until he retired for medical reasons in 1990.
He was coaxed into signing up by Len Garis, who went to become chief, and Jack Duggan, who holds the honour of being the department’s longest serving volunteer, having logged 35 years.
Back in the 1980s, there wasn’t a single paid member, not even the chief.
Bisset began firefighting when the department was housed in a small, cramped building that barely had space for the trucks.
“I used to get dressed right behind the fire truck and I lived in fear that they would put it into reverse and back right into me.”
He remembers his first fire vividly, although the old Cook farmhouse burned to a rubble, making room for the cenotaph adjacent to city hall.
When the calls came, Bisset could often see the glow of flames from his driveway.
“You’d come out at night and you’d see the sky lit up and go: ‘Oh God, where are we going to now?’”
Funding was tight and firefighters had raise money for everything the department needed.
“We raffled off a Trans Am to get the money to buy our first rescue truck,” says Bisset.
They also had a raffle to purchase the department’s first “jaws of life,” the tool that cuts through car wrecks to free people trapped inside.
They hosted a yearly Christmas tree bonfire in a field where the Jolly Coachman now stands. One of the firefighters owned a sleigh and would trot the horses out to give kids a ride in the snow.
Every year, the firefighters organized a dance and cooked roast beef dinner at the old rec hall to raise money for the fireworks at Pitt Meadows Day.
“Don’t tell the fire marshall, but we’d pack 300 people in there,” says Bisset.
“That was the hottest ticket in town. You had to know a firefighter to get a ticket to that.”
For Bisset, being a firefighter, especially a volunteer, is something he will cherish for the rest of his life.
“I got to work with people who built Pitt Meadows. That’s really an honour and privilege. You couldn’t meet a finer bunch of people,” he says.
Joe Bachmann, too, joined the fire service as a way of giving back and still does. He is among a group of honorary members who are still come out to volunteer at Pitt Meadows Day and shake the boot during the department’s annual fundraiser for muscular dystrophy.
“You can’t walk away,” says Bachmann, who volunteered with the fire service from 1989 to 2009.
“When you go to life-threatening or intense calls, you remember the guys that were beside you. I enjoy going back to see them and see how they are doing. I had a passion for it. You can’t be a volunteer for 20 years without some passion. To sudden turn that off, that doesn’t happen.”
Seventy three years after its birth, Pitt Meadows has no plans on changing the fire department. It’s much larger, with 32 paid-on-call firefighters who respond to many more calls, but the essence that made the department special back in 1941 still burns.
Oddly though, the people who built the department have never been formally honoured.
With the city celebrating its centennial this year, current chief Don Jolley thinks it’s about time.
“The volunteer firefighters have always been an integral part of the community, both through firefighting and also many community events and services which they participated, and continue to participate, in,” said Jolley.
Until recently, the only visible recognition of the honorary members of the department was a plaque that sits in the corner of a meeting room.
“It didn’t seem respectful enough,” says Jolley, who remedied the omission during a recent renovation of the fire apparatus bay. The bay now has a royal blue stripe bearing the names of every honorary member, edged in gold.
“They built this place and in many ways significantly influenced the growth of the whole community,” says Jolley.
The department used to be a who’s who of Pitt Meadows’ pioneers from its founding members such as Hans Hoffmann, Ted Ming and Gordon Park to more recent recruits such as Garis, who currently heads the Surrey fire service.
“To state that the city and the current department owe these individuals a lot would be a big understatement,” says Jolley.
“They were the builders, influence and advocates for this department being as highly successful and widely recognized as it is. The Pitt Meadows Fire and Rescue Service is, and always has been, a very innovative and professional organization. That started when Hans Hoffman and a few others created the first department and fire truck and it continues strongly right up until today.”
The Pitt Meadows Fire and Rescue Service and Pitt Meadows Fire Rescue Members Association celebrated its honorary members at a special ceremony at the fire hall on Thursday.
• Clyde Alexander
• Oscar Austring
• Joe Bachmann
• Dennis Barron
• Garry Bertolozzi
• Dave Bisset
• Al Conway
• Derek Critchley
• Henry Doerksen
• Cam Dougan
• Dave Douglas
• Ron Fell
• Len Garis
• Cecil Gjaltema
• Alfred Gottschalk
• Clint Harmston
• Rich Harmston
• Hans Hoffman
• Alf Jensen
• Ed Kark
• Dick Koopman
• Albert Kurucz
• Fred Kvaas
• Walter Laseur
• Sheldon Lehman
• Doug McDermott
• Ron McDonald
• Bob McKitrick
• Vance Mills
• Alan Nicholson
• John Ouwehand
• Bill Park
• Jim Peters
• Len Popeniuk
• Rob Popeniuk
• Henry Savage
• Jackie Sharpe
• Gary Smith
• Lloyd Soch
• Richard Ulmer
• Tim Vander Klok
• Ken Wallin
• Max Wicksen
• Bob Williams