Fire brigade organized with the advent of water pressure system

 In Opinion

In the early 1900s one of the most pressing needs the Creemore council had to face was the need of a water pressure system.

Fires were frequent. Beside the houses, nearly every property had a barn or shed on site. Frame houses were the kind most
frequently built although by 1900 brick was favoured. Still, one wonders why fires were so common in the early days. First, homes were heated with wood. Sparks sometimes flew out the chimneys and landed on dry cedar shingles. Inside long strings of stove pipes took the smoke outside. Cleaning these pipes every year was a major frustration and often the job was set aside. A hot fire on a windy day could ignite the soot that had collected in the pipes. The stovepipes would become very hot and ignite the ceiling or the walls.

Before the water system and before the fire brigade the method of extinguishing flames was primitive. The description of a fire in 1905 illustrates such a method. At the home of Francis Gowan a fire was lit in the kitchen stove, a spark from the chimney setting the shingles on fire. A ladder was brought from the barn and pails of water were thrown on the roof. The winds whipped up the flames before any progress was made. Only a few belongings were saved.

The devastation to the Earl company building just north of the railway on Mill Street in 1905 illustrates the need for fire protection. Mr. Crawford had been putting the finishing touches on the upstairs and while he left briefly for a small quantity of flooring fire broke out in an unaccountable manner. The new fire hose for the brigade had just arrived but nozzles hadn’t been sent. The one available was inadequate. Fortunately, in spite of the high wind, they were able to keep the fire from spreading.

About a year later a fire brigade was organized with the advent of the water pressure system. The men had to practise running 450 feet with the hose. They were delighted that they had water within four minutes.

The value of fire protection was evident when a blaze was detected in the Gables grocery store. John Boyd, living nearby, wakened about 4 a.m. and saw a bright light, which turned out to be Gable’s store. Firemen soon arrived and doused the blaze. The building, however, was damaged and the stock ruined by water. The cause of the fire, which started outside, was either the work of an incendiary or a spark from the chimney of the close-by rink.

Yet, fires continued. In 1906, the veterinarian, Dr. Butcher’s stables was engulfed in flames. Fortunately, three horses and three buggies were saved. The water system saved E.H. Nicol’s building and others nearby.

The bucket system of putting out a fire was still used if necessary. Coal oil stoves were particularly popular in the summer months. A container of coal oil would slowly drip into a pipe that ran to the burners. A fire set by such a stove occurred in 1908 in Grainger’s barbershop. The fire was lit and the flame turned down low. Mr. Grainger left the shop. A while later, Mr. Currie, who had an office close by, smelled smoke which alerted him that something was wrong. He broke down the door and threw the stove outside and then doused the remaining fire with a few buckets of water.

E.H. Nicol, a tailor, experienced a second fire. “Shortly before twelve o’clock on a Thursday evening in February 1901 a fire broke out in the workshop of E.H. Nicol, merchant tailor and before it was extinguished his whole stack of dry goods and gent’sfurnishings was a complete mass of ruins.”

“In 1909 Mr. Nicol and family, who lived over the store, had retired but had not gone to sleep, when they heard a crackling noise and on Mr. Nicol getting up to investigate and looking down the register he discovered the workshop in a blaze. His first thought, of course, was to get his wife and child out, after which he ran to the fire alarm in the Methodist church.” This was a wire hanging down from the bell which when pulled made a dong sound, unlike the regular bell tolling sound. “In a very short space of time the firemen had a hose attached to the hydrants and two strong streams were pouring into the burning building, the inside of which was a seething mass of flames. Under the direction of the fire chief, Jake Hisey, the firemen were enabled to keep the flames confined to the lower storey and though, with the exception of a few articles that were got out the whole stock was destroyed. The furniture upstairs was saved excepting damaged occasioned by water and smoke. The building, being a frame one, would have undoubtedly burned to the ground and adjacent buildings would have suffered but for the efficiency of the waterworks on which too much praise cannot be bestowed and of which we are all proud. Estimated loss $4,300. Insurance $2,500.”

In a few months the local paper printed some good news: “The brickwork of E. H. Nicol’s new block is completed. When the carpenters and painters are through with their work and the rubbish cleaned up outside, the building will present a fine appearance and be quite an addition to the street.”

People did learn to prevent fires but they did continue. In 1916 there was a fire in the livery stable at the lower end of Mill Street. Sam Gowan’s house on Elizabeth Street was burned in 1927. The tenants were not at home at the time but the neighbours managed to save the furniture.

All the reports of the fires cannot be listed here but they became less frequent. The issue of burning buildings became much less serious in Creemore.

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