The Eureka and District Volunteer Fire Department is marking 70 years of service to a changing community.
Chief Bill Holley, a 27 year veteran, is only the fifth chief in the history of the department. He joined in 1992, became deputy chief in 2003 and has been chief since 2005.
“My uncle Ray Holley was one of the six founding members back in 1949. At one point my brothers were also in the department,” he said.
Deputy Chief Lee Fraser’s parents used to operate a garage in Hopewell.
“We grew up around the garage and there was always a lot of talk of the fire department. My father was a member and it was just natural that I would join,” he said, noting he has 33 years of service.
His son and daughter are also currently members of the department.
“It is different today so I was not counting on them joining, but I’m really happy they did.”
Sean Fraser followed his brother Lee into the department 26 years ago.
“It was natural for me, too. It was a way to be active in the community where we live.”
Roger Caddell is a captain and the longest-serving member of the department with 43 years of service. He actually spent a couple of teenage years with the long-defunct junior firefighters’ program, though he said it was more of a social club.
“When I joined there was not much else going on. in the community. We were not running kids and back and forth to the Wellness Centre or minor hockey or soccer or swimming like some of today’s firefighters have to contend with.”
His first job as a member of the fire department was to go door to door soliciting donations for construction of the existing firehall.
“We got a great response. Just about everybody donated money or materials or time. It was a real community project.”
For quite a few years volunteer firefighters came from area farms and small businesses but not anymore.
“Today, not one of us works in the community,” said Holley, gesturing toward the other three firefighters. “We don’t have the same number of farms and the small businesses are gone altogether.”
The firefighters can come up with a long list of other things that have changed, including training and equipment.
When Sean Fraser joined the fire department he was issued a trench coat, a pair of hip waders and a helmet.
“It was certainly not adequate by today’s standards,” he said, adding today’s training is also far superior.
During Lee Fraser’s early years only those firefighters who entered a building wore a breathing apparatus.
“If you were manning a hose you just stayed there and sucked in the smoke.”
Holley said an early breathing apparatus consisted of a black mask and a canister the firefighter hooked onto his belt while Caddell pointed out there have been many changes through the years.
“Not only is the breathing apparatus far more effective today but it is also much lighter and less cumbersome.”
Smoke has always been an issue for firefighters but today’s buildings can release a myriad of toxins.
“Think of vinyl siding and all the plastics inside the average building or home. We’re told that 50 years ago you may have had 16 minutes to get out of a burning building but today the smoke can get you in four minutes,” said Holley.
Communication is another area that has changed radically.
“It used to be only the chief had a radio. We had to use a phone tree to get the word out to the other firefighters and that took time. Today we’re part of a central dispatch system.”
Whenever a fire call comes for Eureka, a neighbouring fire department may also be called out.
“What department that is depends on the location we’re being called to and what the situation is but it is a way of ensuring there will be enough responders,” said Holley.
The department also provides mutual aid, meaning it will respond to any other department needing assistance.
Today the department has 23 full members and two more, one male and one female, who are going through their six month probationary training period. A full complement would be approximately 30.
Lee Fraser said Eureka, like many other rural fire departments, saw its numbers go down for a period of years but recently they are on the upswing.
“As things have changed the fire department has become the most visible organization in the community. We provide space for a lot of other groups and functions,” noted Sean Fraser.
By the firefighters’ calculations it costs more than $4,000 to outfit a firefighter and the department must raise a significant portion of that.
“The fundraising doesn’t get any easier and you get tired of it. You are always going to the same people, looking for support,” admitted Caddell.
The firefighters routinely bartend at community events and work as floor walkers at dances and weddings in the fire hall. They are also heavily involved in the annual Hopewell Ceilidh and a 50-mile yard sale. They were one of the earliest groups locally to jump onto the Chase the Ace bandwagon but are taking a break from that fundraiser.
The firefighters also point to the loss of their “ladies’ auxiliary” as another fundraising challenge.
“For a lot of years they raised money and donated it to us but quite a of the older members passed on and others retired. There’s nobody interested in taking it up again but we miss their help,” said Holley.
The fire station has recently been designated an official warming station in times of power outages and the firefighters are waiting for details on that.
In recent years the Eureka department has agreed to provide fire services to Governor’s Lake, Loon Lake, Porcupine Lake and part of Cameron Settlement, all located in Guysborough County. Most of the calls, though, come from the other end of the department’s coverage area where Riverview Home Corporation, a number of seniors homes, special needs facilities, apartments and Dr. WA MacLeod School are situated. Many are related to security systems.
Lee Fraser remembers one call the department was unable to answer.
“We were once called to a Windmill Street and we didn’t have a Windmill Street so that was kind of startling. We soon found out the call was for a fire department in Eureka, Alberta.”
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org