In 2012, Pitt Meadows’ little red fire truck will turn both 83 and 70 years old.
In 1929, it began life as a Model A (or Model T, depending on the source) panel truck, likely black in colour and most probably the apple of its proud owner’s eye.
At some point, it ended up at the Mussallem Motors lot in Maple Ridge, and it was from there the newly formed Pitt Meadows A.R.P. Committee Fire Brigade purchased it in 1942.
In Pitt Meadows, the fire department had formed shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, with Hans Hoffmann the first fire chief and Ted Ming his assistant.
With no building available for use, the fire department set up in space provided by the Hoffmann family in its machine shop on Harris Road, using civil defence fire pumps supplied by the government.
Marie Nightingale, a former reporter with the Gazette newspaper, wrote in a 1981 article about the department’s 40th anniversary: “Hoffmann and Ming went to Haney one night and dickered to buy a Model A Panel truck from Mussallem’s.”
The volunteers then spent endless hours at the Hoffmann Shop rebuilding the old vehicle to turn it into the community’s first fire truck.
The war ended and by August 1946, the department had changed its name to the Pitt Meadows Volunteer Fire Department.
The group continued to operate out of the Hoffmann’s building until the early 1950s, when a new fire hall was built on the west side of Harris Road, across from what was then the municipal hall. By that time, the department had purchased its second vehicle, a converted army truck, the members of the department referred to as a “double clutching nightmare.”
Early fire emergency calls in Pitt Meadows were fairly labour intensive and sometimes problematic.
Around 1960, the call would be made to a Hammond exchange, where the operator would then relay the call to one of the firemen, who in turn would call each of the 17 men on crew, one at a time.
Eventually an alarm system was established with an automatic phone ringing in five of the firemen’s homes. They would then determine if it was a false alarm or actual fire and, then would push a button that would start the siren on top of the hall to call all the members.
Apparently this system also attracted a good portion of the community, who came out to see where the fire was. Eventually the department moved to an automatic pager system.
In 1981, when Nightingale wrote her first of two articles on the subject, the department had grown to 29 volunteer firemen, two fire trucks (beyond the two originals) and a recently acquired rescue vehicle that had been purchased with funds raised by the firemen.
In 1989, when she revisited the subject in a Pitt Meadows 75th anniversary article for the this newspaper, there were 28 volunteers, the department had moved into its new building on 122nd Avenue five years earlier, a new pumper truck with a 1,250-gallon capacity had been acquired, and 911 was “just around the corner”. However, one thing stayed consistent – the little red fire truck, by this time 60 and 47 years old, was still a member of the team as it is today.
Leslie Norman is curator at Pitt Meadows Museum and Archives.