Piece of Westville’s history returns

Community Featured

WESTVILLE — Much excitement and gratitude flowed through members of the Westville Fire Department with the return of the town’s first fire truck.

The 1948 LaFrance model pumper integrated into a GMC body chassis arrived in town on Monday morning. Thus ended a circuitous journey for the truck from where it was built in Ontario, to Westville, through times of storage in Pictou County and its relocation in Ontario before its return to Westville.

It was transported to the rest stop at Exit 21 and hauled on a flatbed to Westville at around 8 a.m.

Deputy fire chief Tom Steele explained the truck’s history, its travels and how Andre and Rhonda Cougais, the co-owners of the Acropole Pizza and Pub, paid the $5,000 asking price to ensure its return.

Steele said the fire truck was originally purchased for $9,000. It could pump 500 gallons an hour and had a 125-gallon tank and 2,500 feet of hose two and half inches wide.

“The town had 30 to 40 fire hydrants at the time so you needed a lot of hose,” he said. “Now we have more than 300 hydrants in town. It was the first real fire truck and the first new one. We had two others at the time but they were modified trucks.”

Steele said the town bought a converted oil tanker in the 1960s.

The 1948 truck was retired in 1974 but was pressed into service in 1976 when the former home of the Westville Legion caught fire. The truck also had a ladder that was elevated to pour water onto the Legion building’s roof.

“It was my first big fire,” Steele recalled. “We needed its 45-foot ladder to get water onto the peak of the Legion.”

After being stored in a garage in Thorburn and elsewhere in the county, the truck ended up in Ontario.

The previous owner in Ontario bought the truck 16 years ago and it was stored indoors.

Halifax’s John D. Allan, whose father Doug was a police chief in Westville, noticed the ad announcing the truck’s sale and contacted town fire chief Ken Dunn.

“Money was a problem,” Steele said. “With the Victoria Park project, we have a commitment to that. To direct funds from there wouldn’t be proper.”

A plea was posted on Facebook, and truck’s owner pulled the ad when he was contacted about the truck and gave the fire fighters a small window of time to come up with the money to buy it.

“He knew it should come back, but he wasn’t going to wait forever,” Steele said. “Andre and Rhonda saw the posting and contacted us that they would donate the funds. They were already great contributors to the fire department and were supporting the Victoria Park project.”

The truck is in remarkably good condition for its age. It could use a paint job and some other work, but the engine has been checked. The crank turned full circle, indicating the engine is not seized.

The odometer shows 7,269 miles on it.

“It’s emotional,” Rhonda said. “I thought it would be in rough shape, but it’s in good shape. It was definitely worth it.”

Several items that were missing have been restored or will be. The ladder will be placed on the rack on top of the truck, and the original LaFrance fire extinguisher that fire fighter George Dooley rescued years ago is on the truck.

“It was in a dumpster,” he said “I took it home more than 30 years ago.”

He said he’s not surprised at the low mileage.

“The trucks were just driven through town,” he said. “You could have a truck for 30 years and put 600 miles on it.”

Westville firefighter George Dooley stands beside the original LaFrance fire extinguisher that has been reinstalled to the fire truck. (Goodwin photo)