This year the Shawville-Clarendon Fire Department (SCFD) is celebrating a historic milestone: 40 years since the two municipalities officially agreed to share responsibility for the department. A catered dinner will be held at the Shawville Lion’s Hall on April 6 to commemorate the occasion, and will feature photos and stories from the days of yore.
SCFD Chief Lee Laframboise said that while they typically have a dance every year to fundraise and fete members of the force, this year they wanted to have a sit-down meal as well.
“We wanted to know what to celebrate and it just happens to be that it’s 40 years … that Clarendon and Shawville came to an agreement and joined together,” he said.
According to The History of the Shawville-Clarendon Fire Department written by Eleanor Black and Paul Heins, the agreement was penned on March 30, 1979 and followed closely on the heels of Clarendon’s purchase of a 1979 Ford tanker truck in December 1978. This effectively doubled the capabilities of what was then known as the Shawville Fire Department, who had been operating with only the trusty 1960 Fargo for many years.
“Shawville, when they bought the Fargo, they were going everywhere,” Laframboise explained. “They’d go to Coulonge, they’d go to Otter Lake, that’s how it was back then because there were only a few firetrucks around.”
Several former veterans of the force spoke fondly of the old workhorse. Neil Sharpe joined the department in 1978 and went on to serve for 28 years, including three years as chief in the early 90s.
“When I first started that was the only truck they had,” he recalled “It was a good old truck too.”
Roy Thoms joined in the mid 60s and stayed for over 40 years, with nine years as chief from 1982 to 1991.
“I drove [the Fargo] quite a bit when I was there,” he said. “It made quite a difference.”
“We’d answer fire calls in Bristol, Clarendon, Thorne; went up to the Davidson Mill when it burned …,” he continued. “We didn’t have the training like they have today, you learned on the job.”
In addition to significantly less transportation and water hauling capacity than modern departments, Thoms and Sharpe also recalled the years of being “smoke eaters” before breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) were widely available.
“We only had one Scott Air-Pak when I started, between the whole gang,” Sharpe recalled, adding that toxic fumes were just one of the dangers on the job at that time.
“Our coats and hats were nothing like what the guys have today,” Thoms said. “Of course in later years we had new uniforms to wear. We didn’t have a breathing apparatus when I started.”
Laframboise said that modern smoke alarms, building construction and dispatching technology have significantly changed how fires are fought. The department currently has 15 SCBAs and 60 tanks.
“If we get called early enough, we have the equipment that we can go inside and put fires out,” he said. “Back in the day, you showed up and you were spraying water from outside. They called that surround and drown.”
Nowadays, firefighters are alerted by text message and use the GPS on cell phones to plot their route to calls. Despite this, Laframboise said that there are still several members of the department with an encyclopedic knowledge of the region’s sideroads and others that can list the location of all the hydrants in town.
“It’s still old school like that a bit,” he said. “I do know most streets, but sometimes, waking up in the middle of the night you have a mental block.”
When Thoms and Sharpe started out, residents were alerted to fires by a WWII era siren that would blare out for everyone in town to hear. Before pagers came into use in the late 80s, firemen were alerted by a relay of “fire phones” installed in several of their houses.
“My wife [Margaret], she was in on it too,” Sharpe said, adding that he still had the old switch that the dispatcher would hit to fire up the siren. “She was on-call before we got the pagers.”
“There’s been a lot of changes over the years, let me tell you,” Thoms said. “I remember one year when everybody started to burn wood. That was a big thing, everybody was burning wood. I think that winter we had 14 chimney fires.”
All three said that despite the challenging, dangerous work and time away from work and family, they are immensely proud of their commitment to the department.
Laframboise noted the rush you get responding to a call.
“I really enjoyed it,” Sharpe said. “It’s like a club, the lads all work together and do everything together. It’s nice.”
Thoms, Sharpe, Laframboise and many other former and current members of the department and their families will be in attendance at the celebration on April 6 and there will likely be more than a few stories and old photos to take in before the night is through.
Tickets are $30 for the full evening, or $5 for just the dance and are available from any member of the department.
by Caleb Nickerson
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