Tuesday, June 1, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 22 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“The chances of me actually making it were very, very low. I had the race of my life.”
- Adrian Cole  
- on making the Junior   
National Team   

 

Looking Back - John KinnearFor a time in my life I was lucky enough to be the son of the fire chief in Coleman, the town I grew up in. If ever a boy wanted to be in the thick of some truly exciting action that involved your dad, that was the place to be. Volunteer firemen years ago found themselves in the middle of some pretty wicked fires and generally the chief was right in there with them, hacking away.  Equipment wasn’t quite as sophisticated back then and fires were a lot more frequent and deadly.  Often times the fire axe was the key weapon in getting at fires in walls and those dreaded chimney fires.
A volunteer fire department is generally comprised of men from every walk of life in the town and they are ever ready to respond to an alarm. Every time the big old fire siren at the fire hall would sound back then there would be a mad scramble of men from all corners of town headed for the hall. Oftentimes, if they didn’t get there in time, they wound up chasing the engine to the fire in their own vehicle.  And just as often we kids were right on their tails because fires injected some pretty awesome excitement into the day.
Coleman has always been blessed with a dedicated group of firemen prepared to be there when needed.  It was also blessed at one time with 130 pounds of water pressure at the hydrant.  The source of this extraordinary pressure was a dam hundreds of feet above town up Nez Perce Creek.  130 pounds is a lot to handle on a hose and I have many times witnessed a pair of firemen hanging on for dear life to a hose the seemed to have a life of its own.  Burning walls could be knocked down with water pressure, not a pike pole, and spectators were wise to stay well clear of the action.
Fire-fighting equipment being what it was back then, my father felt disposed to create a device to get water inside smaller burning  buildings  swiftly and safely.  That device was a six-foot piece of heavy gauge pipe that attached to the end of a fire hose.  The pipe had slots cut in it with a hacksaw and was sharpened to a point and blocked at the other end. The trick was to ram the pipe through the outside wall into the room that was burning, thereby spraying all over inside while the fireman remained outside.  As the old saying goes, “whatever works.”  Apparently this is a standard piece of equipment these days for fire crews.
I remember a particularly wicked blaze back in the 1950’s that tested my dad’s crew to its limit one cold winter’s night. It was the time Celli’s Building Supply store  caught fire and  got  out of control right on Main Street Coleman. If you think about it for a minute, about what all is stored in a building supply store, you’ll realize what they were up against.
The worst part was the gallon paint cans periodically exploding like bombs.  At one point early in the fire a 4x8 foot picture window was blown clear across the street into the Legion and the blaze burned red hot for most of the night.
 
Dad recalled noticing at one point an unwavering stream of water passing in a high arc over the top of the burning building, completely missing the fire.  On investigating, he found fireman Trevor Collister lying on his back, frozen to the roof of a lean-to next to Celli’s and unable to free himself or direct his hose.  I guess it was a comical sight.
John Kinnear Senior was also instrumental in introducing a unique fireman’s contest to Alberta known as a “Hose- laying Competition” This event  involved teams of four firemen who lined up at a starting line and on signal dashed to four appointed positions as quickly as possible. One man ran to a hydrant immediately to the right of the starting line, hooked up the fire hose and usually without looking up, cranked open the valve.  The second and third team members ran to connect the three lengths of hose laid out in a line and the fourth member had to run to the head of those three lengths of hose and attach a brass nozzle, after which he aimed his stream of water at the target. When hit with the first burst of water, the target stopped a timer, the elapsed time was recorded and the team with the fastest time was declared the winner.  
Needless to say the hydrant man usually didn’t wait to see if the connections were made and the nozzle man had to be damned fast on his feet to beat the rush of water to the nozzle.  I will never forget watching the excitement of Dave Feregotto tearing down the pavement in his black and white sneakers hell bent for that nozzle.
Cross-threaded connections or a slow nozzle man generally meant for lots of wet action and with 130 pounds pressure no spectator was spared. Teams came from as far away as Nelson, BC and Red Deer, AB and teams like Fernie’s were always fast runners and hard drinkers. I can’t remember a July first that was more fun than when hose laying was in its heyday in Coleman.  Hot dogs and lotsa water. What more could a kid ask for on a hot day in July.
Hose laying is still alive and well and you can catch the action every year during Bellcrest Days.  Last time I checked in on the action in 2007 one of the Coleman teams were kicking everyone else’s butts.
The siren’s call to arms has been replaced by electronic beepers but modernization will never replace the spirit of the volunteer fireman, ever ready to answer the call in small towns and hamlets across Canada.  Nor will time ever diminish the memory of the pride this boy felt the day his dad emerged from a smoke-filled burning house with little old Mrs. T. B. Smith is his arms.   
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