Wilson shares view of firefighting past

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NEW GLASGOW — Retirement has not blunted Jim Wilson’s reverence for fire fighting.

Wilson retired as deputy chief of the New Glasgow Fire Department in 1999 but not before amassing a comprehensive history of fire fighting over the more than 41 years he served and placing it in a scrapbook. It’s no longer at his home, rather it’s a valued resource at the department.

His collection is so detailed that he’s listed key dates and statistics. He joined the department on January 20, 1958, answered his first call on February 3 — a false alarm – and responded to his last call — a fire and rescue — on September 30, 1999.

He responded to 316 major fires and 4,219 minor ones for a total of 4,635, not including the many practice and rescue squad calls he had.

Wilson also has listed his first grass fire called in on March 29, 1958, his first major fire in April and his first practice on April 10. The earliest time of year for a grass fire was on February 14, 1981. The most grass fires he responded to were nine on March 31, 1959.

His first call as lieutenant was January 14, 1969 on Little Harbour Road. His first practise as the department’s training officer was on May 10, 1972.

“They decided they wanted a training officer and elected me,” he said.

Fire behaviour and pump operations were two items he said he stressed during training.

His first call as captain was on January 5, 1979 and his first call as deputy chief was December 9, 1979.

Wilson was able to answer quickly and located evidence of what he considered his most significant fire event. It took place along Pictou’s waterfront on July 6 and 7, 1959.

“We arrived at 3 p.m. on July 6 and were there until seven o’clock the next morning,” he said. “The whole waterfront burned. Even a ship that was docked burned all night in the middle of the harbour.”

Wilson’s most serious injuries occurred on March 22, 1961 during a fire at two adjacent buildings in Walkerville.

“I was moving hoses between the two buildings,” he said. “I had arm burns and my coat caught on fire. It could have been a lot worse.”

Wilson referred to oxygen masks as an example of how equipment evolved for fire fighters during his time, including what were called Scott air packs that arrived on November 6, 1972.

He enjoyed what limited work he did to keep the department’s venerable 1918 la France fire engine in good repair.

“I wasn’t much of a mechanic,” he said. “I was the ‘pass-me’ guy. I drove it a few times in parades.”

Wilson recalled the fire alarm system used when he joined the force.

There was a gong to ring in every fire fighter’s house and its ring coincided with a numbered list of town areas from one to 75. The members would listen to the number of rings for the first digit, the silence and the second digit and were instructed to drive to that point to respond to the call.

“It was quite a system,” he said. “It was there when I joined and long after that.”

A pager system replaced it in the 1970s.

Wilson warmly praised the families of fire fighters like his who helped make their work possible.

“I don’t think I could have had a (nearly) 42-year fire fighting career without the assistance of my wife Edna and my family,” he said. “She played a big part in the service. She’s home looking after the children, and they’re not home sleeping. They’re thinking about whether we’re getting injured.”

Wilson said fire fighters area special breed in any community they serve.

“You go anywhere in Canada and hear the same stories,” he said. “They think the same. They’re great people.”


Jim Wilson views items that are part of the extensive collection of photos and information about local fire fighting at the New Glasgow Fire Department. (Goodwin photo)

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