Special ceremony held to celebrate Billings’ Fire Department’s 40th

Billings Township held a ceremony last week to recognize the 40th anniversary of the local volunteer fire department. In photo, back row, left to right, are Billings Fire Department members Scott Graham, Kevin Lester, Rob Lehman, Randy Smith, Tracy Paris, Andrew Preyde, Dennis Beckett, Councillors Tom Imrie and Brian Parker, Darren Hayden, Aaron Wright, Louis Couillard, Brad McKay, deputy fire chief Randy Peters and Jim Ferguson, the latter who was the first Billings fire chief. In front row are Martin Connell, Billings fire chief Merv Gilchrist, Billings Mayor Austin Hunt, Roger Lloyd and Sharon Alkenbrack.

KAGAWONG—A special ceremony was held last week for the Billings Volunteer Fire Department, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

“We have a great fire department here. It has always had the support of the community and the fire department is made up of very dedicated community-volunteer people,” stated Jim Ferguson, at the 40th anniversary celebration held at the fire hall on Wednesday of last week. Mr. Ferguson was the first Billings Fire Chief.

“The community is very proud of all of you-our fire department,” stated Billings Mayor Austin Hunt. “We have a good operation here, with very dedicated volunteer firefighters.”

“This volunteer fire department has been in operation for 40 years now,” continued Mayor Hunt. He noted that earlier this year Kathy McDonald (Billings township clerk) had been looking at some previous bylaw and pointed out that 2016 marked the fire department’s anniversary. When (councillor) Tom Imrie heard about this he said we need to do something as a township to honour this accomplishment.”

Mayor Hunt explained that the township did have a group of volunteers in the community (prior to the formation of the fire department) who would fight fires. “At that time it wasn’t organized as it is now, but the group of volunteers did have two Wayjack water pumps and the Ministry of Natural Resources provided some hose for us to use. In those days we had a few forest fires that the group had to look after.”

Forty years ago both Gore Bay and Little Current had full fire departments, said Mayor Hunt. “What really brought about the fire department we now know.” It came after a large fire occurred in a shed behind the old hydro building where the candy store is now located on the corner at the top of the hill. He pointed out it took the persistence of Anthea Parlee and others in the community to get both the Gore Bay and Little Current fire departments to respond and put out the blaze. “Fire departments were regulated by the province not to leave their area for another area’s fire. It isn’t like the Mutual Aid the fire departments have in place now. Anyway, the fire departments and our volunteers worked all night to save the hydro building.”

“This brought about the community members wanting to have a fire department in the community,” said Mayor Hunt. “And the first thing we had to get was a fire truck,” he said, noting that there were no grants for fire trucks or buildings at the time.

The community helped raise funds for a used model that was purchased from a fire department in Barrie, said Mayor Hunt. Norm Lloyd provided space in a building he owned in the village of Kagawong to store the truck, but it was found that there was still a need for more space.

Again with the support of the community and spearheaded by Willie Newlands and many others in the community, the fire hall was constructed.

“In those days the fire department was made up of much less numbers of volunteers than there is now,” said Mayor Hunt. “But as is the case now, there was a good dedicated group of people that volunteered to be on the fire department.”

Jim Ferguson was the first Billings volunteer fire chief, with others through the years including Willie Newlands, Murray Thompson, Gar Woods, Jay Swain, and the current fire chief, Merv Gilchrist.

Mayor Hunt presented a plaque to Billings Fire Chief Merv Gilchrist and Deputy Fire Chief Randy Peters. The plaque presented on behalf of the township reads, “Honouring 40 years of service by many dedicated volunteers who have given their time and effort to keep our community safe.”

“We had a fair crew when the fire department was started,” Mr. Ferguson told the Recorder. “Everyone took fire fighters training courses through Ken Scott, the fire chief for Espanola at the time. We trained for one winter and summer, and then the fire truck was purchased to establish the fire department.”

The development of the fire department, “was a real community venture,” said Mr. Ferguson. “The support was incredible for things like fundraising, where there were raffles and dinners held to raise funds to start

the fire department.”

“Through Ken (Scott) and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office we were able to self-organize and get the fire department started,” said Mr. Ferguson. “I can remember the night of the old hydro office-garage fire. The whole corner would have been gone without the help of the Little Current and Gore Bay departments. They saved the building. The fire occurred on January 6, 1979, and the reason I can remember so well is that night when I got home from the fire I had to take my wife to the hospital, where our son was delivered.”

“I really appreciate the township having me and the firefighters here for this celebration. They have been really good people to work for,” said Mr. Gilchrist, who has been Billings fire chief since late 2001.