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History

Fighting Fires In Peterborough Book available now. Contact Peterborough Fire Services for details.

A pumper truck stationed at the Peterborough Fire Station circa 1927

Prior to incorporation to the Town of Peterborough in 1850, the extinguishment of fires was in the hands of the Citizens Fire Organization, and was not proving satisfactory by 1850. At the first meeting of the newly elected Town Council the reorganization of the Fire Department was 1st on the list.

The new organization, under municipal control, was being structured in two companies:

  • No.1 Company - Fire Engine and Hose Company
  • No.2 Company - Hook and Ladder Company

Total Manpower was 30 men.

 

1900's Alarm Boxes
A decommisioned alarm box from the early 1900's (closed) A decommisioned alarm box from the early 1900's (open)

Previous to 1908, Peterborough's fire brigade ran on a totally voluntary basis. The volunteers were paid a $15/year honorarium for their efforts. From 1886 to 1908, the fire department was housed in the town buildings on the southeast corner of the market square and it shared quarters with the police department.

On New Year's Day 1908, a new fire station was opened on Aylmer Street. In the same year, it was decided by the City of Peterborough that a permanent fire brigade was necessary. The change from voluntary to permanent brigade took place on June 30, 1908, and was marked by a grand procession of the old fire brigade.

Aside from its duties in fighting fires, the Fire Department had a certain social position in town. As many of the most prominent citizens were on the force, or were patrons, the Department usually took first place in all festivities. The Annual Fireman's Ball was “the” annual significant event.

The annual "Fire Picnic" excursion was also popular, as a general public invitation brought out young and old and it was common to pack three of four baskets of food, and have a grand time. Other local societies sought to carry on under the auspices and with the patronage of the Fire Brigade, so anything endorsed by the Brigade was likely successful. Even the town band, that had been in dire straits found growth in popularity under the auspices of the Brigade and flourished as the "Fire Brigade Band".

The Volunteer Department was reorganized in 1850 and existed as such until 1908.

 

Collection of Helmets from 1920 - 1950
A regulation fire cap circa 1920 A regulation fire helmet circa 1930
A regulation fire cap circa 1950

A regulation fire helmet circa 1950

Fire protection service has been provided in the City of Peterborough for well over a century. Since inception of Peterborough's public water supply in 1882, fire protection has been considered a valuable service to protect persons and property in the city. Indeed, historic literature indicates that the waterworks system was established essentially to provide fire protection.

The need for this service was never more evident than on the night of December 11, 1916, when a major fire destroyed the Quaker Oats plant in Peterborough, killing twenty-three people. It burned for four days.

The Peterborough Utilities Commission (formerly the Peterborough Water Commission) has had the responsibility of providing water to the City of Peterborough since the water system was purchased from the founding private company in 1902. At this time the water supply system had a capacity of 4ML/day and consisted of 28 kilometres of water mains, 1070 water services and 129 hydrants.

In 1908, the new Fire Hall was constructed on Aylmer Street (where present City Library). Then Council decided that it was time to move from a semi-volunteer organization to a full-time service. The Volunteer Brigade had already passed out of existence. The Semi-Volunteer organization, while giving a good service had developed certain limitations as the service of the men on-call were concerned. 

It was decided by the Council that a permanent Department be organized on a salary basis. Action was taken on the evening of February 4th, 1908 with a discussion of preliminary steps and a tentative agreement.

On June 16th, 1908, Council engaged W.A. Howard to take charge as Chief of Fire Department on June 30th 1908. He held this position until 1917.

1995 saw the arrival of 15 new recruits, to replace the retiring 15 hired in 1960. The volume of 1260 applicants illustrated how popular firefighting has become as a career choice. This was Peterborough’s most recent mass recruitment. Two new Spartan pumpers also arrived.

Since 1994, equipment turnover has been a critical issue as many trucks were over 15 years old and beyond current day's standards. Equipment purchasing was done to address the needs of the growing community, advances in fire/rescue technology, factoring in feedback from personnel who use the trucks.

As trucks are the biggest capital expense for any department, Peterborough staff worked hard at being successful at purchasing two aerials, one which was a demonstrator model, another slightly used, at a large cost-savings to the department and city taxpayers.

Operating a Fire Safety House, and implementing a Computer-Aided Dispatch system have been other significant advancements since 1998.

Issues for the future with focus on needs of the community, such as a large population demographic growing older, industrial processes advancing, new businesses starting up. With this in mind, the future for Peterborough Fire & Rescue is sure to be dynamic.

 

List of Fire Chiefs from 1850 - 2012
1850 - 1864 W.S. Conger
1864 - 1873 Edwin Poole
1873 - 1875 John O'Donnell 
1875 - 1881 Charles Stapeton
1881 - 1908 Thomas Rutherford
1908 - 1917 W.A. Howard 
1917 - 1922 George Grange 
1922 - 1947 George Gimblett 
1948 - 1952 George W. Smith 
1952 - 1953 Ralph Leonard 
1953 - 1958 W.D. Stone
1958 - 1959 Stewart Foster (died during tenure) 
1959 - 1960 Albert Mason (acting Fire Chief)
1960 - 1971 Clarence Bennett
1971 - 1981 John Ritchie 
1981 - 1989 William Manoll
1989 - 1993 Max De Bryun
1993 - 1995 Brian Wallace
1995 - 2010 Lee Grant 
2010 - 2012 Trent Gervais 
2012 - 2013 Doug Tennant 
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