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A Brief History of the Belleville Fire Department

A Brief History of the Belleville Fire Department

The Belleville Fire Department has a long and rich tradition of service to our community since the beginning of the 19th century.
In the very early years of settlement the citizens of Meyers Creek formed and maintained a volunteer fire brigade which consisted mostly of elected members.  Their only equipment was a leather fire bucket. Each member was issued two of them.  After a name change from Meyers Creek to Belleville, and following incorporation as a village in 1836, hand powered pumping engines were purchased.
In 1860 the hand pumps were replaced by two Merryweather twin cylinder steam engines from England at the cost of $5,000. The steam engines pumped a water stream that could reach 105 ft in the air at 160 psi through a 1″ nozzle.
A nickel-plated fireman's helmet, dated 1869, and worn by John Cummins.

A nickel-plated fireman’s helmet, dated 1869, and worn by John Cummins.

 These engines were augmented by a chemical wagon which acted like a large fire extinguisher.  It had a large tank containing water and a second tank carrying a soda acid type solution.  A crank handle was attached and when turned, it would mix with a soda acid creating a chemical reaction which would result in the pressurization of the water tank.  The water would shoot out through a deluge type nozzle.  It was effective but was a one-shot deal so it had very limited applications.
The volunteer service that had protected Belleville since 1878 was formally organized on a permanent force basis on January 1, 1916, under Chief William Brown.  The fire department at that time consisted of 10 men and 2 pumpers.
 The 1920s proved to be a transitional period for Belleville when the City purchased two motorized vehicles to replace the horse drawn equipment.
New motorized fire trucks outside Fire Station 1, Front Street, Belleville

New motorized fire trucks outside Fire Station 1, Front Street, Belleville.

 Belleville’s last horse was finally retired in 1926 when the City purchased a ladder truck.
In March of 1944, a signed petition from leading rate payers and industrialists was handed to City Council requesting that firefighters have their wage increased to $1,100 per year.
1936 Bickle pump

1936 Bickle pump engine

1946 proved to be a particularly bad year for fire calls.  As a result, in the following year, Chief Lynch recommended the purchase of a new pumper and the City’s first aerial ladder truck.  The aerial truck would be two years coming but finally arrived on May 10, 1949.  This aerial truck is still used by the Belleville Shrine Club and is in mint condition.
In 1949, Belleville entered into an agreement with Sidney, Ameliasburg, Tyendinaga and Thurlow Townships to provide fire protection.  This agreement would stay in affect for the next 20 years. On July 14, 1949, the Belleville Fire Department officially opened up their new headquarters at 72 Moira Street West.  Currently known as station #2 , it was built for the cost of $68,000.  In 1953, Belleville opened up another fire station on Dundas Street East, for a cost of $74,000.  The Dundas Street Hall, formerly known as Fire Hall #1, was decommissioned in 2015 after the new Headquarters and Fire Station was completed on Bettes Street.
In 1969, the four townships that Belleville provided coverage for, decided at that time to establish their own volunteer fire departments. Thurlow Township developed an agreement with the Point Anne cement plant to use the company fire department.  An old general store in Point Anne was converted into the Thurlow Fire Hall. In 1972, the Township of Thurlow established its second fire hall.  They set up at the old Corby’s distillery in Corbyville, where it remained in service for many years before being moved to an old cheese factory on Harmony Road in the mid 1980s.
Blacks Meat Market Fire. 1962

Blacks Meat Market Fire, 1962

With a change in provincial financial strategies, Belleville amalgamated with Thurlow in 1998 forming the municipality of Belleville as we know it today.  The two fire departments were also amalgamated to become the Belleville Fire Department.  To reflect the changing needs of a growing city, two new fire stations have recently been constructed in the Thurlow Wards and a new Fire Headquarters and Station No. 1 was constructed in 2015.
Glanmore National Historic Site has partnered with Belleville Fire and Rescue to develop a new museum exhibit about the history of firefighting in Belleville.  The new exhibit will be installed at Fire Headquarters, 60 Bettes Street, in Belleville. Admission to the fire fighting exhibit will be free of charge.  The exhibit will feature photographs, artifacts and hands-on elements that will appeal to a broad audience. The development of an exhibit like this gives Glanmore an opportunity to exhibit artifacts relating to the history of Belleville that would otherwise not be featured in our restored historic house. The exhibit, entitled “Loyalty, Tradition, Progress” will officially open to the public during Doors Open, on September 17, 2016.
brochure describing the new exhibit

NEW EXHIBIT OPENING September 2016!

Written by Mary Jane Throop
Historic photos courtesy of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

Melissa Wakeling has a Bachelor of Arts from Trent University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Museum Management and Curatorship from Fleming College. Melissa works as Education and Marketing Coordinator at Glanmore National Historic Site in Belleville, Ontario.