It's been 100 years since the first bell rang and Coquitlam firefighters scrambled to save the lives and property of their neighbours.
To mark the auspicious centenary, Coquitlam Fire and Rescue is hosting an event at Spirit Square Sunday. Veterans of the department and the public are invited to look back on the last 100 years and see what today's crews are capable of.
Emeri Pare Sr. was appointed chief of both the police and fire department in 1912, according to the book Coquitlam: 100 Years. The two services also shared a single horse and were run out of Pare's home. There are no logs kept from the fire department's early days, but a few aural histories survive.
"I remember granddad once telling me about a phone call he got in the middle of the night in 1914 or so -," wrote Pare's grandson Antonio in Coquitlam: 100 years.
"The Coquitlam River was flooding and a house located not far from the Boys' Industrial School on Pitt River Road at Essondale was surrounded by water, its occupants trapped. Granddad arrived on his horse and rescued the family."
In the early days, volunteers were called by ringing the bell in the church spire. The horse-drawn fire wagon was equipped with only buckets and ladders.
By June 1953, Chief Sam Langis and his crew of 15 had 16,000 residents to protect using one truck they mostly built themselves. Still, they boasted they were able to save $135,000 worth of property from destruction that year.
It was around that time Coquitlam council first considered switching from a volunteer force to a professional department. When the council of the day first looked to hire full-time firefighters, they opted to ignore their experienced volunteers and sought educated firefighters with the "IQ of a Philadelphia lawyer," Langis recalled in Coquitlam: 100 Years.
"Well, gosh, it takes guts to fight a fire, not brains and eventually, council decided to hire some of the volunteers, but only after they had taken an IQ test."
While guts and hoses may have cut it in Langis' day, things have changed, says Chief Tony Delmonico, particularly the types of situations firefighters are called to and the technology they have to deal with them.
Where it used to be mostly fires, Coquitlam Fire & Rescue is now called on for floods, medical emergencies, hazardous materials situations, high angle and water rescues and essentially everything else where there is risk, Delmonico said.
Luckily, the city has provided the department with some of the best equipment and training available in all of North America, he added.
While technology has helped protect the health and safety of firefighters, the risk associated with the job has kept pace, said assistant chief Scott MacKenzie.
"Back in the days, they were fighting wood fires. Now our personal protective equipment is safer but we're fighting more dangerous fires - chemicals and that kind of stuff," he said.
As for the next 100 years, Delmonico said they will probably look like the last 100: constant evolution to meet residents' needs.
"Our city today is in excess of 130,000 people and we've got 35 highrises and we've got 20 to 30 more coming in a number of years," he said. "We have to adapt to that as a fire service."
. Sunday's celebrations run from noon till 4 p.m. at Spirit Square (next to City Hall at 3000 Guildford Way) and will feature a ceremonial presentation from the Coquitlam Fire & Rescue honour guard, the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service Band, interactive history displays, a barbecue and demonstrations of vehicle extractions and high angle rescues.