||If Prince Edward Islanders are a unique
people in Canada, the Islands volunteer
firefighters certainly stand out with their heroic
commitment. Coming from the ranks of business people,
professionals, electricians, teachers, and farmers, they
are all highly dependable folk who are committed to their
community. They never know when the call will
comeduring supper, in the middle of the night,
halfway through the big ball game, at work, during their
morning shower, or in the midst of their childs
birthday party. They are called out for everything from
grass fires to auto accidents. However, all too often,
our firefighters are taken for granted; remembered,
unfortunately, only when their services are needed.
During the mid-1980s, half of Kensingtons male population wanted to be a member of the Volunteer Fire Department. It was a highly respected organization, active since 1914, whose vital role in the community was undeniable. At that time, Kensingtons department was the most active in the province. To this day, the Kensington Fire Department remains a vital and active part of the local community. The firemen organize dances to raise funds for equipment, put on demonstrations for the community, participate in variety shows and parades, and support local sports. Most importantly, they protect the Town, its residents, and their property, as well as properties in surrounding areas, against destruction by fire. They are truly admirable citizens. Perhaps one of the most admirable is former Fire Chief Bruce MacLeod who served on the Kensington department for 30 years, from 1958 to 1988. Prince Edward Island has 38 volunteer fire departments totalling approximately 1,200 volunteers. Charlottetown has two career firefighters who are paid for their full-time responsibilities of protecting the Islands largest, densely populated city.
In Prince Edward Islands smaller communities and unincorporated areas, however, most volunteer firefighters are trained on the job. Many veteran fighters consider it the hardest but best way to learn. Special training sessions are organized for the volunteers to learn hose work, ladder and rescue work, and general firefighting. Department members must attend such sessions in their free time. These courses are offered at the fire school on Sleepy Hollow Road on the outskirts of Charlottetown, a facility run by the provincial Fire Fighters Association. Approximately 60 percent of Prince Edward Islands firefighters have Level 2 training, considered the meat and potatoes of firefighting. This training covers automobile extraction and rescue from heights whereas Level 1 training covers the basics of how to work safely at a fire scene.
There was a time when fighting fires entailed putting the wet stuff on the red stuff; nothing more, nothing less. However, this was not an easy task in the nineteenth century, when most public and private buildings on the Island were made of wood, and water was transported by bucket brigades or (later) truck-loaded tanks. During this period, fire was rightly feared. Firefighting has changed significantly over the past 25 years. Today, fire prevention takes on a vital importance for fire departments. Many departments design education and awareness programs to teach their communities about proper practices to help prevent fires. Key times of the year include: summer, when people might be inclined to build campfires or have barbecues; autumn, when many residents burn excess leaves and lawn waste; Christmas, when families decorate their homes with candles and erect Christmas trees; and winter, when households are building fires in their wood stoves and fireplaces.