Fighting fires with buckets of water and a garden hose may seem archaic, but there was a time when that was all a community could do to protect itself.
After watching their municipal hall and the main building of the historic Vernon Preparatory School destroyed by fire in 1957 (followed by the Orchardleigh lodge blaze), local efforts were initiated for a better plan of action.
With such losses fresh in their minds, a group of nine men banded together to form a local fire brigade.
On Aug. 12, 1961, Coldstream’s 2,161 residents could sleep a little sounder at night. The formation was declared that day with the District of Coldstream fire protection bylaw and $35,000 was set aside for the creation of the Coldstream Fire Brigade.
Frank Schiller was elected the community’s first fire chief alongside 24 charter members: Beals, Billick, Boyd, Chouinard, Clarke, French, Gordon, Holweg, Johnson, Kuhn, McFarland, McKay, Mills, Nahm, Quirk, Stecyk, Trehearne, Whitney, Gingell, Haines, Seymour, Green, Palfrey and Kuhn.
Then on June 18, 1962, the double-bay fire hall was unveiled (next to the newly renovated municipal office), complete with two trucks.
Gordon Bisschop still remembers the day his community became a safer place (which also pleased many as home insurance rates were reduced). After joining the band of 25 brothers in 1966, Bisschop moved up the ranks 10 years later to become chief – and was also the longest serving fire chief in Coldstream (1976 to 1996).
During his tenure, Bisschop watched the brigade evolve from averaging 15 calls per year, members earning $4.50/hour practice pay and $4 on call outs, having zero communication in the trucks, smoking cigarettes while holding the hose and even sharing essential equipment.
“When I first joined we only had two air packs. The rest of the guys would just have to stand in the smoke,” said 71-year-old Bisschop, who joined the hall at 26.
It wasn’t even until 1989 that the department joined the universal 911 system. Prior to that the emergency number was 115 in Coldstream.
A few years later, the department accepted its first female onto the male-dominated crew.
Brigette Yuskiw joined the department in 1992.
“She was just like one of the guys,” said Bisschop. “She really fit right in.”
Today the department (which includes two women) averages 100 calls annually, members earn $17.50/hour for practice and $30.99 for every two hours on call out and the members, in their new six-bay hall, are highly trained and fully equipped.
While flames of change have roared through the department during the last 50 years, the initial purpose of the department has stood the test of time.
“The goals at all time is prevention of loss of life and property,” said Bisschop. “But nowadays it’s a lot more technical.”
David Sturgeon, Coldstream’s newest fire chief (and the youngest at just 28-years-old), joined the hall in 2005 with that very goal in mind.
But along the way, he’s also gained a second family of friends who not only have each other’s backs in the line of duty, but through life.
“It’s the camaraderie,” said Sturgeon, of what he enjoys most about being a firefighter. “Most of the guys, even now, help each other out with things. If somebody’s moving or somebody’s doing this or that, they’re there to help you out.”
Meanwhile the evolution of fire protection in Coldstream has also led to fewer losses.
Compared to Sturgeon, who hasn’t witnessed a single fatality in his term, Bisschop can recall several, including the worker who died in the old packing house fire, the 1978 tragic loss of a young girl and a 1984 house fire fatality.
Structures continue to be lost, but prevention and better built homes have led to fewer losses.
“I’d like to think they don’t burn as good as they used to,” said Bisschop, comparing $20,000 wooden homes built 50 years ago to multi-million dollar concrete lake front homes.
Whether it’s 1961 or 2011, both Bisschop and Sturgeon agree that prevention is key to dampening the destructive path of fire. And thanks to the department, plus municipal support and resident education over the past 50 years, Coldstream is continuing to ensure the safety of its residents on a daily basis.