Editor's note: this article also appeared in the May 1 print edition of The Compass.
Members of the Bay de Grave regional volunteer fire department had plenty of reason to celebrate during their firefighters' ball on April 21.
In the two short years since it was activated, the department has doubled its membership, relentlessly pursued training opportunities, responded to many dozens of emergency situations, and expanded its inventory of equipment, including the purchase of Jaws of Life extrication tools.
It has also welcomed its second female member, become a strong, unifying presence in the region it serves, and earned the confidence and respect of those who have been on the receiving end of their professionalism, dedication and expertise.
In fact, Harbour Main MHA and Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson described it as "the top notch fire brigade in all of the province, bar none," during a speech at the April 21 ball, which was held at the Royal Canadian Legion in Brigus.
Dealing with tragedy
But a tragic house fire in Clarke's Beach a few days earlier cast somewhat of a cloud over the formalities.
Fresh on everyone's minds was the death of an elderly Clarke's Beach woman, who perished April 18 in a dramatic house fire that also saw a member of the department, Makinsons resident Boyd Hurley, sustain a serious leg injury.
It was the department's second major fire call that week, and its first-ever fatality.
The incident set the tone for the evening as speakers offered sympathies to the family of the late Dorothy Lorraine Anthony, who lived at the corner of Shaw's and Meadow lanes with her husband, Clayton. Clayton escaped the blaze, but was hospitalized to be treated for complications related to smoke inhalation.
Fire broke out at the home at mid-morning, and quickly engulfed the two storey dwelling. By the time firefighters arrived, it was too late to attempt any life-saving measures.
It was the first fire-related fatality in the area in many years, and reinforced the importance of maintaining a highly trained and motivated volunteer fire brigade, said Hedderson.
Both Hedderson and fellow MHA Glenn Littlejohn (Port de Grave) pledged to work closely with the brigade to ensure the resources are available to "deliver the resources you need to carry out this very valuable work."
Recognizing Hurley at a nearby table, with crutches by his side and his right foot hidden under a medical brace, Hedderson remarked: "I came to realize what you people have to face every day, day in an day out. And Boyd, it could have been much worse."
The Bay de Grave brigade is no stranger to adversity. A few weeks after it was activated, longtime firefighter and Cupids town councillor Frank Bishop Jr. died tragically in a plane crash in Labrador on April 18, 2010. Bishop was instrumental in the creation of Bay de Grave, and served many years with the former Cupids brigade.
"If adversity builds character, you have to be the strongest characters I know," Hedderson added.
Hedderson said Chief Jeremy Hall displayed such character during media interviews following the April 18 tragedy in Clarke's Beach.
"I think all of us should be proud of the leadership Jeremy shows," said Hedderson.
The brigade is administered by the Bay de Grave regional municipal services corporation, which is led by board chair and Makinsons resident Junior Taylor.
Taylor acknowledged "there have been problems, maybe more than people want" along the way, but described the past year as a success, and offered best wishes to the department in the future.
With the region continuing to grow and prosper, Chief Hall said he expects things to get even busier for the brigade in the coming years.
But Hall said he would "go anywhere" with his fellow firefighters, and referenced a slogan he sported recently on a t-shirt, which read: "Send us to hell and we'll put that out too."
About the Bay de Grave regional volunteer fire department
• Activated — March 29, 2010 (nearly all of the original 15 members transferred from the former Cupids brigade, which had operated for 38 years);
• Communities served — Cupids, South River, Clarke's Beach, North River and Makinsons;
• Equipment — 2010 Freightliner 1050 pumper truck; 1996 Chevy rescue van; 1993 GMC 625 pumper; several portable water pumps; Jaws of Life extrication extrication equipment;
• Chief — Jeremy (Jake) Hall;
• Emergency number — 786-9000;
• Calls for 2011 — 46 responses includes the following: general fire calls (5), structure fires (5), vehicle accidents (18), chimney fires (4), flooding (2), rubbish/brush fires (5), ADT alarms (6), medical calls (1);
• Training certificates earned by members in 2011 — 33;
• Oversight — administered by the Bay de Grave regional municipal services corporation.