In addition to recognizing the department’s long history protecting the citizens of Prince Albert, the stylish black-tie affair also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the former fire station — now a museum — as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Active and retired firefighters, their family members and significant others, and widows of old colleagues who had since passed away all attended in formal wear, alongside many guests from outside the firefighting fraternity.
The response from the community has been “absolutely fantastic” according to fire Chief Les Karpluk.
“We were sold out over three weeks ago,” said Karpluk. “When we started this I was a little bit nervous on selling 200 tickets. We absolutely had no problem whatsoever. My only problem was having enough tickets.”
Reflecting upon the long history of the local department, veteran firefighters agreed that the biggest change has been the relentless advance of technology.
Karpluk noted that the P.A. fire department started in 1887 with only $64.50 to buy low-tech axes, ladders and buckets. By contrast, 125 years later, the department had acquired a ladder truck with wireless remote control, anti-collision sensors on the platform, and a hydraulic hose bed for just under a million dollars.
Former fire chief James Ellerman remarked that when he joined the department in 1958, the No. 14 pumper now on display in the museum was the best pumper that the city owned — but that the technology of today makes yesterday’s state-of-the-art equipment look like toys in comparison.
“When I started, you had to pretty well go in and breathe a lot of smoke,” Ellerman said. “Then breathing apparatus came into the department. A few at a time, and finally you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t have to breathe a whole lot of smoke in a fire. Better communications … it just goes on and on.”
Technology is what has changed this profession — how we fight fire, how we protect our firefighters. - Les Karpluk
His eventual successor agreed.
“Technology is what has changed this profession — how we fight fire, how we protect our firefighters,” Karpluk said.
“We’ve lost some firefighters to cancer. I mean, cancer is a firefighter killer … The protective gear that we have now, the standards that we have, they’re meant to protect our people because the job shouldn’t kill. It shouldn’t be something that you’re going to suffer for after you retire.”
The many retired firefighters at the gala certainly looked happy. For them the event was an opportunity to reminisce and catch up with long-lost friends, and seeing the former fire hall brought back fond memories.
Retired firefighter Denny Foster had a good laugh recalling the many pranks he and his colleagues pulled in the old days, including one winter when they packed the deputy chief’s front tires with snow.
“He gets in and is trying to move the car,” Foster said. “Of course it’s just spinning like crazy and it’s not moving because the front tires are froze right to the ground. That was a pretty good trick. And of course we had to help him lift it off after.”
Foster also described a recurring gag that involved sending firefighters up to the hose tower, where there was nowhere for them to escape when their co-workers gleefully sent a deluge of water their way.
“Pretty much every rookie got that treatment,” he grinned.