Fire departments step up for community in need

Newfoundland community looking to start up fire department thankful for Port Maitland, N.S. department support




SaltWire Network


The Port Maitland Volunteer Fire Department provides much mutual aid support to other fire departments in Yarmouth County, but earlier this month it went the extra mile when it came to helping out another fire department in need. And not just ‘the extra mile,' but more than 1,200 extra kilometres to be of assistance. The small fire department in rural southwestern Nova Scotia saw one of its rescue trucks travel the length of Nova Scotia and onto a ferry to Newfoundland and Labrador, where from there the rescue truck made its way to its destination of Sheppardville, N.L. Driving the truck was Nelson Wiseman, accompanied by his wife Rose. Wiseman has been named chief of the Sheppardville Fire Rescue Services. There's just one thing, however. That fire department does not yet exist. Sheppardville, N.L., Wiseman says, is a small community along the Trans-Canada Highway that has around 40 homes in it. Under perfect conditions, the closest fire department in Springdale could respond to a fire here in about 30 minutes, Wiseman says. But if there was a storm and/ or road conditions were compromised, it could be 45 minutes or maybe even stretch out to an hour. Obviously, that's concerning. So Wiseman and others have decided to start up a volunteer fire department in the community. In October he made a post on a Facebook site called Nova Scotia Fire Equipment Trade or Sell. He pointed out they are a small community with very little cash flow, but big dreams. He said they were looking to see if any fire departments were willing to donate, or sell at a very low cost, any used equipment, providing it is in decent shape. “We are trying our best to get our fire department off the ground,” his post read. “When I say we're starting literally from the ground up, we're actually starting literally from below the ground,” Wiseman tells Saltwire. “We don't have a water supply so we've got to dig holes to put tanks in the ground and make dry hydrants and big water ponds. Then we've got to build a building.” One thing they do have is firefighters. They've got 13 of them so far and hope to have at least 20. One of the firefighters is Wiseman's wife, Rose. Thanks to Wiseman's Facebook post last fall, they've received a lot of equipment to help them on their way of starting up a department. One of the first people to see Wiseman's post was Matthew Mundle, a training officer with the Shinimicas Fire Department in Cumberland County, N.S. This Nova Scotia fire department certainly knows what it's like to start from scratch. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT In April 2020, a fire destroyed Shinimicas' fire hall and all of the department's equipment, including firetrucks. Firefighters from at least a dozen nearby fire departments responded to the blaze that took more than four hours to extinguish. For the Shinimicas department, the blaze was devastating – taking with it not only their hall and equipment, but also what was an important location for community gatherings and fundraisers. Mundle knew he immediately wanted to help with the effort to get a fire department up and running in Sheppardville – much like other fire departments in Atlantic Canada had come to their aid with loaner equipment when the Shinimicas department was left with nothing but the determination to start over. They've since rebuilt their fire station and were able to also purchase a lot of equipment, including trucks, through their insurance. “When we saw these guys in Newfoundland had mentioned they were trying to start a fire department, we had a good feeling for what that was like, to start a fire department from scratch,” Mundle says. “We had surplus equipment available and things like that. We also put the word out.” Other fire departments were quick to respond and step up with donations. Eventually Mundle and Corey Burke, the training officer with the Port Maitland Fire Department connected. Because the Port Maitland department was getting a new rescue utility truck, which was built by Tri-Star Industries in Yarmouth, the department was more than happy to donate their old rescue unit to the Sheppardville cause. The COVID pandemic, and the supply issues that came with it – which Tri-Star, like the rest of the world, had to contend with – had delayed when the Port Maitland department was able to get its new unit. The vehicle's chassis, for instance, sat in the Port Maitland fire hall for a year before any real work could begin. Burke says the department, which is made up of 20 volunteer firefighters, was eager to get its new apparatus and could fully understand how eager Sheppardville was to get new-to-them equipment. It took a little longer than Wiseman had hoped to pick up the unit, since they had to raise the money to purchase insurance to be able to drive it home to Sheppardville. It's been a win-win for both departments. Their new unit, which Port Maitland took delivery of last fall, has been a game changer for the department. “We learned a lot about what we needed for a support unit,” says Geoff Hodgson, the treasurer/safety officer for the Port Maitland department. “You go to a scene and we've got a tanker and a pumper. But you need a place where the guys can get out of the rain and the snow and get a cup of coffee, maybe at two in the morning when the adrenaline is dropping off.” The inside of the new unit includes benches where firefighters can sit when they're recovering on a scene, and includes larger lockers for their gear. VERY GRATEFUL The atmosphere was jovial inside the Port Maitland fire hall on March 8 when Wiseman, his wife, and also Mundle (who gave the couple a ride to Yarmouth County after they had also hitched a ride with others) arrived at the fire hall to take possession of the rescue unit being donated. Asked how their overall efforts have been progressing in Sheppardville, Wiseman noted he had already bought a pumper and a fire engine – and with Mundle and Burke getting involved, along with other fire departments, they ended up with 10 truck pallets of equipment, that included bunker gear, pumps, and “everything under the sun.” Getting a fire department up and running is important to Wiseman for many reasons. One of them, he says, is because there are people who forego home insurance, and others who struggle to afford it, because it's so expensive since there are no fire protection services within the community itself. He's very grateful for the support they've been receiving, saying the help from Nova Scotia has been very meaningful. “I had a friend come up and say, ‘You're better off now than most towns of 3,000 or 4,000 people in Newfoundland,'” says Wiseman. “I've had a lot of help getting all of this. People don't realize if you reach out there are people that will help you out.” Matthew Mundle of the Shinimicas department knows this feeling all too well. He became very emotional during the trade-off of the rescue truck. He says the Port Maitland department could have sold their equipment and gotten a few thousand dollars for it. But instead, they chose a different route. “They put it in the hands of these guys and now it could save somebody's life through another department,” Mundle says, proving once again that the fire service is one big family that will always look out for one another.