On August 7, 1914,a small group of men in Sidney had their first fire fighting drill and suffered one of its few accidents - Herman Teitz fell and the hand drawn fire hose reel ran over his leg.
World War I was days away and in Sidney, the Victoria & Sidney Railway sold 65¢ excursion tickets, the B.C.E.R. railway was rattling along to Deep Cove - Sidney was a major stopping point for Coastal Steamers - the Sidney Rubber Roofing Plant boasted the largest storage tank north of San Francisco, the lumber mill employed up to 325 men, the cannery whistle announced another barge load of clams for processing - and yet another railway - the Great Northern was creating a right-of-way to its new ferry slip at Pat Bay.
Sidney’s 600 permanent residents installed six fire hydrants in 1912 and by 1914 public donations had collected enough money to buy a hand drawn hose reel and 1000 ft. of 2 ½ inch hose. Six street lights lit the way and the mill whistle called the volunteers after the local telephone operator received the alarm.
Today, the Town of Sidney citizens enjoy all the services of a big city and the charm of a small town by the sea.
The Sidney lumber mill on Second St. provided fire protection and in 1911, ten local merchants formed the Sidney Board of Trade and offered to organize a fire department and local services. In 1912, six hydrants were installed and by 1914 they bought their first fire fighting equipment - a hand reel, hose, nozzle and axe. The Sidney Board of Trade’s interest and sponsorship continued until Sidney residents incorporated as a village in 1952, and for the first time money for all the equipment and operations began to be shared by all the homeowners.
In November 1956, letters patent were issued for a fire prevention district that included the surrounding unorganized area which was to become North Saanich. In 1967, Sidney incorporated as a town and continued to provide fire and ambulance services to the whole area until the North Saanich Fire Department was established in 1970 and to the Dean Park area until 1983.
First called the Sidney Fire Brigade, then Sidney and North Saanich Fire Department, and now Sidney Volunteer Fire Department.
Cannery Whistles to 911…
As the town and technology changed so did the way fire alarms sounded. For the first 18 years it was the lumber mill’s whistle where the hand reel was kept. In 1932 a Clayton Air Whistle was installed for $35.00 atop G. Gray's Imperial Gas Station at Third St. and Beacon Ave. In 1936 a surplus Bridge Siren from Vancouver was installed atop the then new hall and the first phone was installed in "The Hall". Up till then a member ran to the telephone exchange to find out where the fire was. In World War II a larger siren was installed and after the war two way radios and pagers came into use.
Today the Sidney Dept. is part of the regional 911 system, the siren and individual pagers are activated electronically by a Dispatcher in Central Saanich and the department’s communication system of vehicles and portable radios provide reliable two-way contact in emergencies.
Vacant Lots and Fire Halls...
Sidney’s hose reel was first stored on the mill site and latter on various private properties. After the loss of the old North Saanich High School on a very cold Valentine’s Day and the first truck outside was to cold to use, the first hall was started in 1935. Mr. G.H. Walton donated a lot, part of the present hall site, the mill donated materials and four beach logs provided a frame for the hose tower and siren support. Volunteers did the building. A two bay garage, it served until a cement block and frame hall was built with public donations, some contract work and much volunteer effort in 1948/49. Firemen and friends of the department sold tickets, 25¢ bought a building block, $1.00 a sack of cement and $ 2.00 a yard of gravel for concrete and block laying. The roof beams were salvaged from an airport hanger fire in which the department distinguished itself saving the Trans-Canada Airlines facility ( now Air Canada).
This two bay hall was extended and added to in 1965, and served the department and the community well until it was demolished to make way for the new hall in 1988.
Axes, Hose Reels and Pumpers
The purchase of a hand reel, hose, nozzle and axe in 1914 was the beginning of a long, innovative and dedicated process of upgrading. For the first few years, protection was limited to the immediate area to which members could run with the reel.
The first motor vehicle was a 1912 Cadillac donated by G. Clark. It was converted by volunteer effort and placed in service in 1933. Donations were used to buy a pump, the Provincial Forest Service "loaned" some hose and Victoria donated a hand operated siren.
In 1933, Alf Critchley donated his model "T" which was rebuilt for fire use. In 1935, Alf Critchley bought and donated a 1924 V12 Packard and it too was refitted and placed in service in 1936. With the event of World War II, the Pat Bay Air Station and several fires and crashes, the need for upgrading was evident. In 1941, a 1934 Ford 1.5 ton truck was declared surplus by the Provincial Public Works, acquired by the department, and fitted with a 300 gallon tank, hose and equipment, compartments and ladder racks. We call her "Old Betsy" she still runs, and on special occasions her siren still "growls". In 1959, a free ambulance service was started with Kinsman Club help and the Rotary Club provided blankets, supplies and equipment. In 1962 Sidney’s real fire truck arrived, a true pumper, to be followed by newer, more sophisticated models which serve us today.
Sidney’s Fire Department has many interesting pages in its Book of Memories, some funny, some tragic and lot of satisfaction. Thousands of free ambulance calls, the late Fred Fusclow personally answering over two thousand. Major fire, like the old Sidney Hotel, war time crashes including one on Sixth Street. Airport hanger blazes, and barn fires including one at Sandown Race Track in 1964. Saving a sinking ferryboat, the Motor Princess at Swartz Bay in 1958. (Members received a free dinner and two year ferry passes). At a war time display for Sidney citizens the pump fell of the truck as it roared up to do its stuff. Or the time they kept the old "Caddie" running to make sure it would, but when the public display called for them to arrive, it overheated, seized up and stayed in the hall.