BFD History

With the town of Brantford steadily spreading, the waterworks system was installed in 1870. This greatly improved the fire departments efficiency. Until this time, they relied only on cisterns, the canal and the Grand River as their water sources. The increasing size of the town proved too demanding on both the men and their apparatus’, as the hard rough roads easily tired the men and often damaged the equipment. The first team of horses and the first horse drawn apparatus came to the Town of  Brantford in about 1870-1871.

Although improvements were being made in the fire protection of Brantford, the two companies continued to compete. It became so unbearable that it hampered the efficiency of the department operations. The departments focused more on their competition  than their duty of protecting the pub lic. City council encouraged the competition by offering the department that arrived at the scene of a fire first an award of five dollars. Although both departments might arrive at the scene of a fire, they were  not obligated to necessarily stop it. A person or business had to subscribe to the department in order to receive its services. A card would then be placed on the participant’s gate to prove their payment. If a department arrived at a fire and there was no  card, they would offer no help.16 Due to subscription policies and the fierce competition between the departments, Brantford citizens felt threatened and unprotected from fires. Their concerns were voiced to council, resulting in the abolition of the volunteer Fire departments. In 1888, the city of Brantford created a paid fire department.

The first fire chief of the Brantford Fire Department was George C. Calder. He was chief from 1889 to 1898. The full time firefighters, Daniel J. Lewis, “Sandy” Bremner, and Chief Calder, worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Their only time off was two  hours for lunch and dinner. The department also had 25 volunteer “runners” and “sleepers.” Runners would come to assist the full time men when needed, while Sleepers would sleep at the hall overnight. The top floor of the Central Station was converted  into sleeping quarters, while the lower level housed the horses and the equipment. The equipment consisted of two horse drawn hose wagons, and one horse named “Charlie,” who was shared with other city services.

An electric alarm system was put into place during Calder’s years as Chief. On downtown streets fire alarm boxes were installed. The alarm boxes were directly connected (through wire) to the Central Station. This was the quickest way to inform the Fire  Department of a fire or an emergency (Figure 3). This system was discontinued when a greater number of telephones came into use.

Replacing Calder as chief in 1898 was Dan Lewis. Chief Lewis served as chief of the Brantford Fire Department until 1938. He brought the Department into the era of motorization and improved working conditions for the firefighters. Lewis recognized that  motorized vehicles and equipment were important in providing the best fire protection possible.19 Before he purchased motorized equipment, he obtained the department’s first horse drawn- ladder wagon in 1912. Although it was only “a box that carried  ladders,”20 it allowed the men to carry larger and heavier ladders to fires. In 1915, the first piece of motorized equipment was purchased. It was a hose and chemical wagon manufactured by the Waterous Engine Works of Brantford. Additional pieces of motorized equipment that Lewis added included: A life boat truck (1918), a Dodge ambulance (1918), a pumper (1918), a chief’s car (1919), a chemical hose and ladder truck (1920), a Studebaker ambulance (1923), a ladder truck (1926), two pumpers  (1930, 1934), a Packard ambulance(1937) and a new chief’s car in 1938. The addition of these different pieces reduced the response time in which the department could reach a fire. It also improved their services, now allowing them to take part in  ambulance and diving duties. The department became fully motorized in 1926, when the last horse drawn wagon was withdrawn.