A number of the homes in Hedley were constructed at the time Henry Ford was building his iconic Model T and Model A cars. Early records indicate that for the volunteer fire fighters, protecting these dry wooden structures with scanty equipment presented a mammoth challenge.
According to the now defunct Hedley Gazette, when a fire broke out in the Red Light district of Hedley in 1912, the hose wasn’t long enough to reach the blaze. The only means of combating the fire was to take shovels and throw snow against adjacent buildings. Five structures burned down that day. Museum records are a bit hazy on details but the town apparently purchased a longer hose and used a home made “pull cart” to transport it. Even so, that same year the New Zealand hotel burned to the ground.
In 1956 three hotels burned down. These were the Hedley, the Commercial and the Great Northern. According to the Spotlight, the entire business district burned that year, except for one service station.
When Linda and I first visited Hedley in 1976, we watched incredulously as 4 men raced along Scott Avenue, determinedly hauling a pull cart and attached hose to a chimney fire. A former Fire Chief, Ralph McKay, told me recently one man always ran behind the cart to pick up pieces that fell off. In 1984 Hedley purchased a used 1973 Ford truck after the Red and White store burned.
Approximately 10 years ago small cash strapped communities were amazed to learn that insurance underwriters required fire trucks to be less than 20 years old. They threatened to jack up premiums if we dug in our heels. Hedley citizens did just that. Surely an acceptable used truck could be had for far less money, some said. In spite of diligent searching though, no acceptable used truck was ever found. Premiums rose astronomically jolting us like a high voltage lightening strike. In a third referendum we caved in and agreed to borrow funds for a new truck.
Having come to the attention of the Insurance Underwriters Survey, a thorough overhaul of the system and equipment was added to the list of new requirements. According to Vicky Hansen, former office manager for the Hedley Improvement District, “much of the equipment was obsolete, training needed to be upgraded, a duty officer must be designated for each day and members needed to report when they went out of town.” She then added, “I had just been hired. My first day on the job I wrote a cheque for $350,000 to buy the new truck.”
The truck was delivered in 2010. When Terry McFarlane, the new Fire Chief learned that Graham Gore had an air brake ticket, he asked him to join the department. Qualified drivers were in short supply. Graham, age 70 and volunteer pastor of the local church agreed. Then, because no one was doing it, he began reorganizing the department. Being retired and having been in business, he was just right for the job. He was soon named FD manager, a volunteer position.
Now, after 6 years of diligent service, at age 77, Graham has recently stepped down. In a telephone conversation this week he said that in pressing for a higher professional standard, he had built on the work of former Assistant Chief Larry McIntosh. He also praised current Chief Terry McFarlane as a good decision maker.
Veteran fire fighter Andy English said “Graham upgraded the training, bought dress uniforms for public occasions, brought in a device so we can fill our air bottles locally, and much more. He has instilled a high level of professionalism. We have a sense of pride.” Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk said “Graham had no experience with fire fighting but he studied the manuals and learned to do training. We respect his integrity. He doesn’t do a half job.”
Graham Gore’s zeal for the department, his unstinting push for a professional standard, and his positive, uplifting attitude will not be easy to replace. Acknowledging his contribution, one fire fighter said, “to keep up the standard, we’ll all have to step up to the plate.” If early fire fighters could obtain a day pass from the other side of the Great Divide to view modern equipment and training programs that now exist even in Hedley, they’d almost certainly clamor to sign up.