By Peter Simpson
Upper LaHave residents Wilfred and Jean Feener will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary next year, but that's only half of this remarkable couple's five-decade journey through life together.
Wilfred is a founding member of the Dayspring & District Fire Department (DDFD), which, on March 23, will commemorate 50 years of safeguarding its community`s residents and properties.
Jean, a founding member of the women's auxiliary, has also served for 50 years alongside her hubby.
That's a combined century of loyal volunteer service and dedication to the fire service and community.
(Readers of a certain vintage will remember some of the firsts recorded in 1966 Canada Pension Plan, fibre optics, Star Trek, and the Soviet Union landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.)
The Feeners still reside in the comfortable single-storey home they built together, and where they raised their three sons, all of whom grew up to be outstanding citizens and leaders.
Scott is deputy chief of the Bridgewater Police Service, Larry is the town engineer in Bridgewater, and Mark is a senior engineer at Halifax Water. All three live in close proximity to their parents.
Wilfred, who was fire chief on two separate occasions, totalling more than 20 years, recalls the challenging early days of operating an effective fire service, often cobbling together necessary equipment.
"We started with an old Maple Leaf truck, I don't remember the year. You almost had to have an anchor to get it stopped because you couldn't keep brakes on it," said Wilfred.
"Imperial Oil gave us a used 1,000-gallon oil tank that we converted for hauling water to fires. We installed a portable nine-horsepower pump on the back. That's how we fought our fires," he said.
"One time a couple of the guys and I decided to install a 500-gallon-a-minute pump that would run off the engine of the truck. That was a big deal for the fire department. We went to Bridgewater for a demonstration and we had enough power to direct a stream of water right across the river."
Wilfred said there were about 30 volunteers in the early days, slightly less than today's group. Safety gear was non-existent. All they had for protection were hip boots and long raincoats.
"We didn't have any breathing apparatus either, so when we went into a building to put out the fire, you stayed in there only until you couldn't stand the smoke any longer," said Wilfred.
"I remember another time when a metal water tank was leaking bad. Two of us went in the tank to apply fibreglass to the interior walls. We didn't realize we were getting high from the fumes," he said.
Wilfred said the changes in the fire service over the years have been significant. "Firefighters are much safer today, and we train more often on a wide range of fire-related topics and tactics. When we started we didn't have any formal training, and we only held practices once a month."
Today's firefighters are alerted to emergencies via a pager system and mobile devices. In the past, sirens were installed in Rhodes Corner, on the fire hall in Upper LaHave and at Snyder's Shipyard in Dayspring.
There weren't as many calls for service in the early days. Some months there were no calls at all. The DDFD volunteers now respond to about 100 calls a year structure and chimney fires, motor vehicle collisions, brush fires, medicals and other emergencies.
The DDFD firefighters have been despatched to some horrific, heart-rending scenes, including the double homicide and arson in Dayspring and the St. John's Anglican Church fire in Lunenburg, but they have had their share of somewhat humourous situations as well.
The Feeners recall the time a halloween dance was in full swing at the fire hall when a call came in for a woods fire at Miller Point. In those days the firefighters rushed to a scene on the back of a truck. The truck headed down Hwy. 3 with everyone on board dressed in elaborate costumes, including witches.
"It was quite a sight. Some of the men who jumped on the truck weren't even firefighters. They just wanted to help. We put out the fire and went back to the hall to continue dancing," said Wilfred.
Jean said when she and Wilfred were younger they would often hang out with their friends next door. The gals would engage in a gabfest upstairs while the guys played cards in the basement recreation room.
"When the alarm sounded, the three of them Wilfred, Eugene Harmon and Richard Crouse would fight to be the first one up the narrow stairs. They would run outside without their coats and sometimes without their socks. They would all keep extra socks at the fire hall, said Jean.
The women's auxiliary was formed by the wives to support their firefighter spouses. They held fundraising events, social gatherings and provided food for the firefighters during emergencies.
"We did everything we could to support the fire department. We had a card party every week, and we did weddings, parties, dances, bingos, dinners and breakfasts. We also held some of the biggest and most popular garden parties in Lunenburg County," said Jean.
"When the fire hall was built it was bare, but we set up a kitchen and started our fundraising efforts. We would haul out the trucks and bring in Coleman stoves to cook the meals. We didn't have a walk-in cooler like we do now, but I don't recall the food ever killing anyone," she said.
Both Wilfred and Jean showed a little parental emotion when they expressed how proud they are that their youngest son, Mark, was just elected fire chief, earning the privilege of following in his dad's impressive footsteps.
Counting his years as a junior, Mark, 34, has been a firefighter for 21 years. He is a member of the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), select specialists who can be called upon to put their lives on the line on the fire ground to save someone, perhaps a downed firefighter, trapped inside a burning building.
When asked to recount his proudest moment during the past 50 years as a firefighter, Wilfred paused for a moment, then said "any day you can help someone in your community is a proud day, and serving our community for so many years has been very satisfying for Jean and me. We don't regret a minute of it."
At age 73, Wilfred remains active as a skilled driver, pump operator and fixer of just about anything. And as long as he remains healthy, he has no intention of hanging up his bunker gear and helmet.
"It's 50 years and counting, and Jean will be right there with me, answering the call," said Wilfred.
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DDFD Anniversary Comments
by John D Allen
Chief Feener, Mayor Downe, Councilmen Fawson, Commissioners, Firefighters, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Firstly, on behalf of Sandra and myself please accept our appreciation for your hospitality and the opportunity to rekindle some old memories and old friendships tonight.
It's quite amazing to realize this brigade is marking 50 years; most people don't remember a time when it wasn't here, but then this department isn't the only thing marking half a century this year.
In the dust of the 2nd World War, The men and women returning home from Europe and the Far East set about to shape this brave new world they had made. As the prosperity of the post war years swept the land; in cities, towns, villages and rural hamlets alike, the call for more and better services could not be ignored and perhaps no public service owes it's very life more to those boom years than the Volunteer Fire Brigades.
For decades the citizens along the No. 3 Highway & Riverport Rd relied on firefighters from the Towns of Bridgewater, Lunenburg and the Village of Riverport to save their lives and property. A situation which by the 1960's was unstainable. Grass Roots movements sprung up out of necessity, and prodding, gaining their power from neighbour helping neighbour and Dayspring is a fine example.
Ably chaired by Mr. Milne C. Pickings, some 95 residents gathered that first evening, in late March of 1966, at Upper Lahave's Odd Fellows Hall for the express purpose of organizing a Volunteer Fire Department to serve the communities of Dayspring, Upper Lahave and Rhodes Corner. Bridgewater Fire Chief Harold Langille, Charlie Harris, of EMO and Department of Lands and Forests representative Walter Webber, addressed the meeting with words of encouragement, advice and instruction on everything from funding, to organizing, registering, equipping and operating a community volunteer fire department. Boyed by these offers a second meeting on April 4 1966 began to lay out the legacy we are celebrating here tonight. Before long the generous donations of equipment, land and monies made the DDFD more than a dream.
David Colquhoun confirmed that Imperial Oil Company would supply a used 1,000 gal. oil tank and William Bolivar kindly offered to donate a Chev Maple Leaf 3-ton truck for transportation of equipment. Abbott Wolfe forwarded $395.16 from the disbanded Rhodes Corner Agricultural Society or the Bull Society as it is was more commonly known, and generously offered a piece of land, near the Conrad Road for a building site for a new fire hall.
Chief Langille voiced his pleasure at being invited to speak at these meetings: "The organization of a Fire Department in this area has been long overdue." He said. He went on to explain the chemistry of fire and the procedures he followed in fighting a fire depending, on the circumstances surrounding the conflagration. He repeated the pledge that once a working department was established Mutual Aid Assistance was always available and assured the meeting the Bridgewater Fire Department would be only too pleased to give any training assistance whenever called.
It was moved by Dave Colquhoun, seconded by Clayton Corkum that we form a Fire Department to serve the communities of Dayspring, Upper LaHave, and Rhodes Corner. The residents of Wilkie's Cove sought inclusion in this new endeavour. The Motion carried and the DDFD was born with Dave Colquhoun & Vernon Faulkenham as Co-Chiefs, Deputy Fire Chief Frank Crouse and Secretary-Treasurer Jock Campbell rounding out the first executive board.
Work soon began at Malcolm Crouse's Fina Garage to put the old Chevy back on the road, after many years sitting behind the Bolivar family's saw mill. Tires, brakes, lights, etc all were repaired thanks in large part to the generous donations from local merchants such as Century Tire, Handy Andy,
Silver's Garage and GoodWear Treaders to name a few and with a shiny coat of red paint and some lettering and a secondhand siren by July, Dayspring was ready to answer the call.
Now, she was a far cry from the modern marvels you see sitting in our apparatus hall this evening she was a special two man operation; one to drive and shift the other held the gear shift in place so it won't fly out. She was overloaded and underpowered from day one. They say you could hear the siren long before you ever saw her but you knew the boys were coming, eventually and lets not talk about trying to go up the Oakhill Rd.
At the same time discussions regarding a building to house the truck and equipment, where being held. It was decided, for time being, to use the lower floor of a building in Dayspring offered by Mr. Ted Snyder. The Dayspring School House which was closing, and was suggested as an ideal location for a fire hall, but that was rejected on structural grounds and community labour soon set about constructing a simple 2 bay hall on the Wolfe property in Upper Lahave.
By 1969 a second unit, a used 1950's Mercury oil-tanker was added to the Dept., greatly increasing the brigade's water capacity and it's ability to answer mutual aid requests but the venerable old Chevy would be put out to pasture for the last time, in 1971, with the arrival of a new Ford F700 chassis.
The need for facilities to host the constant fund raising and community activities did not go unanswered either. In early 1973, with fund raising and community involvement in high gear, construction began on a building addition consisting of a much needed hall and kitchen facilities. While much of the heavy construction was done by professionals, community labour has always figured prominently in keeping down costs. Many a late night and bleary eyed morning were spent by some of the people in this room laying the hardwood floor we'll dance on latter tonight. Every piece of this wood was crap; nothing was pre-engineered; each strip had to be fitted and laid one at a time.
The Oakhill Rd. continued to vex prompt response and in 1974 we welcomed a new fire department into the county to serve Oakhill, Whynott's Settlement and surrounding areas. A strong relationship that continues to this day.
Anyone in the Fire Service will tell you that keeping on top of fleet issues is a full time job all by itself, a shiny new 1976 Chev C65 chassis replaced the much maligned Mercury and over the next couple of years the old oil tanks having reached the end of their life were replaced with new purpose built fire packs, constructed locally by Stenpro Industries and Balcolm Metal Works. And as more and more portable equipment entered the service the need for special vehicle's to get that gear and members to the call became ever more important a 1981 GMC Cube van was purchased, out of Ontario and equipped as our department's first Utility/Equipment unit and in light of the increasing fleet a second building project, in 1983, added two additional truck bays to the west end of the original apparatus hall. With the large number of unpaved roads and wildlands area in the district a 1987 Chev 4x4 BMI Mini-pumper was added to the fleet as and eventually # 1 would be sold to the MODL with the arrival of a refurbished Chev pumper/tanker, from Halifax County.
Down through the decades this brigade has chosen men of distinction from David Colquhoun, to Vernon Faulkeham, Alan Demone, Wilfred Feener (twice), Calvin Woodworth, Terry Wilkie, Joe Murrell, Stanley Slauenwhite and our currently Mark Feener to lead them. Well there's an old saying that for every hard working man there is a women working twice as hard. Proably to clean up after him, but that's for another discussion. Well behind every Chief is brigade of committed firefighters and behind every firefighter is sometimes worried family but always proud family and behind every fire department is some of the hardest working ladies you'll ever meet. Whether it's a spring wedding, a fundraising supper, a ladies tea, a Childrens Christmas party, manning or should that be ladying the 50/50 ticket table or an emergency lunch for some weary smokeaters. This brigade, and department's like it across this land, simply would not be what they are and do what they do without our Ladies Auxilary. In this department the ladies down through the years have contributed generously toward our general operations as well as to the purchase our first Utility Squad; purchased the Dept's first SCBA units in 1988 and donated heavily toward the new pumper body for #2 and countless little purchases here and there down through the decades. And as insert name here indicated for that we and the community are incredibly grateful.
Safety has become increasingly central to fire ground operations so in 1991 we saw the beginning of a continual replacement program, for our old black pech coats and plastic helmets, in favour of the new bright yellow bunker gear and Carins helmets. "Here comes the canaries" became the jid when we rolled up on a mutual aid call. Among the many other great changes to art of fire fighting the 90's brought ; no longer was just putting the wet stuff on the red stuff enough. Auto accidents, hazmat emergencies, disaster management and medical response required a new skill set from the Fire Service. While it is not well known members of this department were trained in one of the very first SJA MFR courses, in 1995, and were providing the service well before the government instituted the program.
A phone chain was the earliest way fire was reported to the brigade. Someone called someone and they told two friends and they told two friends and so on. But soon the mournful wail of old air raid sirens summoned the volunteers to the hall. Back in the day the emergency phone was answered at the nurse's station of the old County Home and she'd trip the sirens at Snyder Shipyard, the Hall and later in Rhodes Corner, and you hoped enough of the boys were within earshot or not too sound sleepers. Many sirens and horns began to fall silent during the 90's, replaced by the ubiquitous pager. Now there is something that changed the face of firefighting more than you might think. It was now possible, no matter where you were, to abandon your wife and family at the grocery store, restaurant or the movies; stranding them while you answered a call. Don't laugh I know we've all done it. Or maybe you told them to grab a cab home, but don't call Charlie Hortsman because he'd probably be there too.
Everyone remembers their first call, well before enhanced GPS based 911 it could be a bit of a job just to find the call. I remember on my very first call, I was ready! but by the time I got to the hall everything that was going was gone. Ronnie Wilkie looked at me and said take your gear and go, but where is it? and here were my instructions "just take the Riverport Road and stop when you see the fire trucks." Eventually, a simple community numbering system was developed, then replaced by the new 911 emergency phone number. But even the best laid plans aren't without hiccups more than a few times, in those early years of 911 we and Italy Cross/ Middlewood were both driving around our respective Crouse's Settlements looking for the red stuff or they'd send the ambulance to your hall, because that's where the call originated, not necessarily where the emergency was.
Water supply is always a concern for country firefighters, so with federal infrastructure grants in the late 90's we were able to install a series of dry hydrants on strategic lakes and waterways in the district, reducing the need for lengthy water shuttles but despite government program fundraising efforts of the day for the various volunteer organizations throughout the county were much the same. They included suppers, bingos, garden parties and dances and this department was no different. The DDFD was famous for it's Firemen's Garden Parties, Wally Lantz's Wednesday night Bingos, Jimmy Langille's Community Yard Sales and Richard Crouse's top secret Fish Chowder Recipe. Boy I put some of that away right now. These efforts provided not only much needed funds to supply necessary equipment but also a chance to showcase the accomplishments of the many volunteers and engage in community socializing with neighbors and friends. But fundraising is very time consuming and many volunteer organizations felt pressures as work and family obligations took more and more of our precious free time. By the 90's the commitment required began, and continues, to adversely affect recruitment and retention of much needed firefighting personnel. In response to the challenges of keeping training up to standard and raising necessary funds to maintain the day to day operations of a modern fire department, a fire tax was levied on the district for the first time. This new and somewhat controversial plan brought a much needed stable funding structure and in a sad but necessary way eliminated the need for some of those fun events, allowing members to focus more time on training and the professional development. While the department had been a long time supporter of the SS Mutual Aid Assoc. and LRFES and their workshop style training, members increasing began to seek the comprehensive Level 1 Firefighting certification from the NS Fire School at Waverley.
By the early 2000's a new long range apparatus renewal plan was initiated, with NB's MetalFab Industries engaged to supply us with a new 1050/1000 pumper/tanker on a Freightliner quad door chassis the first new vehicle in 18 years replacing the aging #2 and the DDFD soon put to sea with the purchase of a RIB for water rescue. A 2005 Ford Medium Duty Lantz Rescue would soon replace the old Chev cube van, which now serves the Cape Breton village of Ingonish. Mini-pumpers had fallen out of vogue by the late 2000's and the arrival in 2009 of a 2300 gal Metalfab pumper/tanker saw #4 head for Newfoundland with a Pierce Saber pumper arriving in 2015 replacing the Freightliner Quad. #2 which didn't go far nearly so far though, now serving the Tri-District and a second Metalfab pumper/tanker is soon to arrive replacing the Ex- Harrietsfield/ Sambro Chev which has already been sold.
A major upgrade to the hall was undertaken in 2008-09 seeing new washrooms, a revamping of the activities hall and apparatus floor and thanks to grants members were also very proud to include the installation of several alternate energy sources, including a solar. In 2014 the Department established it's own training facility that has been the centre of several well attended seminars including Junior Firefighters and the Lun/ Queens all Female Firefighter training symposium. The inclusion of trained Junior Firefighters and recruitment of females into the fire service has become a important factor in sustaining the volunteer brigades, for here today our chief, and Oakhill Chief Corey Zinck, started many years ago as Junior Firefighters, in a program I, together with others, had the great pleasure to mentor. And speaking of legacies one of the unique aspects of rural life is certain family names are synonymous with certain communities, and the same is true in the fire service. The Mullocks of Lahave, the Gows and Langilles in Bridgewater, Lunenburg's Parks family and here in Dayspring well you can't not think of the Feeners or the Corkums, with their over a century each of combined service.
Everyone around this room tonight has a war story or three; some call that is forever burned in your mind. Maybe it was close call for you, one that could have ended differently; maybe it's some big job; the Nickerson Sea Products fire, the old mink ranch; the Gow residence arson; St. John's Church, SwissAir; Rhodes Lake plane crash, some wicked car wreck or medical call or crazy water or ice rescue, but above them all; without question the one forever remembered in this village is that clear June night in 1985 when fire leveled the Dayspring home of John & Micheline Hulme; friends and supporters of this dept both. The house had been set ablaze to cover a grizzly double murder and despite an exhaustive investigation involving the RCMP & FBI no one has ever been brought to justice.
But it's all is not work for so much sadness and tragedy, there are moments of joy and great humor The halloween night call that was answered by the department, most still in their costumes. A cat in a tree yes, cat in a tree behind an Oakhill Road home, I was there it was a siamese cat who had been up there for 2 days., and if my memory serves me there wasn't enough of us there to put the Bangor up so we couldn't get the little jester down anyway. The launch of Theodore Tug Boat, pursuing a stolen yacht, a pig roast or was it a pig bonfire or the enviable honour of six time champions of the Big Ex Firefighter Challenge Cup. I guess when it comes down to it we still can put the wet stuff on the red stuff best and every so often someone somewhere a single act of conspicuous bravery will be recognized with a metal.
Today's DDFD responds on average between 75 to 100 calls a year ranging from fire and medical emergencies to MVAs and water rescue or maybe just an individual requiring a helping hand. We open the doors to social events like our hearty Saturday morning breakfasts or a country music hoedown, to a family wedding or a community fund raiser for someone in need and we're here when the community needs shelter.
A neighbouring Fire Chief once told me that if he had his way he'd take the names off every fire truck, ambulance and police car and replace it simply with one word HELP because that's what people need when the call, and as you look around this room tonight and see the service metals arrayed here it will tell you two things there is a great legacy of service to the community and a great commitment to life and safety. And while the faces have changed a lot since Billy Bolivar, Mel Pickings, Mac Crouse, Ivan Wamboldt, Keith Snow, Oran Wilkie, Ted Snyder & Alan Demone, Avard Gould, Louis & Alvin Mulock, Murray Weiss, Ace Penney, Arthur Selig and many others who are not here to celebrate to tonight, wrought this endeavour. Faces will continue to change, the facility has changed and will no doubt change again, with the need, the equipment and tactics are ever changing as is the very role of modern Fire Service, in the community. But when our neighbours, our friends and strangers alike call for help the one thing that remains unchangeable, that one tangible legacy that carries forward from that first very meeting, half a century ago. The one thing that remains most certain, when someone calls for help the men and women of this brigade are "Always Ready When You Need Us."
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