- Nanaimo Then & Now - courtesy of the Nanaimo Museum
- The Beginning of the Nanaimo Fire Department, a radio series titled Files of Yesteryear. Presented January 1968.
The History of the Nanaimo Fire Rescue Department
By the mid 1800s, it became apparent to the citizens of Nanaimo that the old "Bucket Brigades" were no longer adequate fire protection. At a public meeting on May 4th, 1878 the "Black Diamond Engine Company" was founded.
The first fire station was built at the corner of Wharf and Front Streets on donated land and with donated materials. The first fire engine was purchased from the City of Portland for $700.00. Also purchased was five hundred feet of hose for $250.00. The original personnel consisted of thirty volunteers who lived in the area of the fire station. This original fire station was destroyed by fire that started in the Royal Hotel in 1894.
In 1890, a subscription list was started in order to secure funds to construct a new modern brick fire station. The new station, at the foot of Nicol Street, was officially opened December 15, 1893. This building is still standing and is presently owned by private interests.
With problems that developed over the years between the Fire Department, Provincial Government and the City, it was decided that the City of Nanaimo would take over the fire department. John Parkin was appointed the first Fire Chief and two Firefighters were hired to drive the horses, "Tom and Jerry".
Nanaimo's Fire Department was one of the first departments in Canada to purchase motorized fire apparatus. In 1913 Nanaimo purchased a pair of Type 10 Combination Hose and Chemical Cars from American LaFrance. These vehicles are still in existence; one (Shakey) is currently housed in the museum at Station #1, Nanaimo. Thanks to a few dedicated firefighters, Shakey has been restored and is operational. Limited edition prints of Shakey are available to purchase, click here for details.
In the early 1950s, the City amalgamated with Brechin District and a small satellite station was built to house one of the 1913 engines. By the early 1960s, the fire station at Nicol Street was becoming too small and in 1967 the department was relocated to the new station on Milton Street. This is the present #1 Station.
During the coal mining years, many small communities sprung up around the original City of Nanaimo. These communities of Harewood, Northfield, Wellington, Chase River, Departure Bay, and Protection Island all had their own fire departments. In 1975 when the City amalgamated, these individual fire departments all became part of the Nanaimo Fire Department.
More than 470 dedicated, Career Firefighters and seventeen Fire Chief's have passed through the department. Currently there are six fire stations in Nanaimo. There are 58 Career Firefighters, staffing three stations (two are composite stations) and 86 volunteer Firefighters staffing 5 stations. The department presently operates nineteen pieces of apparatus including eleven engines, two rescue trucks, one aerial truck, one platform truck, one tender, one rescue rigid hull inflatable boat, and two command units.
The Fire Training Centre (the first of its kind in BC) was opened in 1986 and provides training to Firefighters in Nanaimo as well as a considerable number of career and volunteer Firefighters on Vancouver Island. The Fire Training Centre is located at 1900 Labieux Road in Nanaimo.
Nanaimo Fire/Rescue provides realistic and effective fire protection, rescue and emergency services to all areas of the City of Nanaimo. This includes fire suppression, fire safety, inspections, fire prevention, public education, fire cause investigation, pre-fire planning, building upgrades, emergency preparedness and coordination, rescue and emergency medical aid services.
The department responds to over 4000 emergency incidents annually and provides medical assistance to victims at over 2000 incidents. Full-time and on-call staff are provided with 15,000 man-hours of training. There are 8,000 fire safety inspections conducted annually and 150 serious fire investigations. Fire safety prevention educates 3,500 people annually.
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