Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Nov. 20, 2012 print edition of The Compass.
By Tobias Romaniuk
Special to The Compass
Forty years ago, the charter members of the Upper Island Cove fire department didn't have pagers or radios to alert them to an emergency call.
Instead, the newly established department had a bell at their fire hall that could be heard throughout the town, recalls charter member Edward Mercer.
When that bell went off, Mercer and the other members would rush to the hall.
"Whoever the first three people were there took the truck and left, and then left a note at the fire hall where the fire was and everyone just followed," he recalled.
Those early days were lean times for the fire department, who had just one truck and bought everything else out of money they fundraised, often by going door to door, said Mercer.
Four decades later, a lot has changed, but much has stayed the same as well.
The department still relies heavily on fundraising and donations for new equipment, and while they upgraded to radios and pagers over the years, those are still in short supply.
Or rather were, since Port de Grave MHA Glenn Littlejohn announced during a speech at the ball that his government would be giving the department $5,500 for the purchase of new pagers.
And they still go door-to-door selling raffle tickets to raise funds, while the community still graciously donates to the fire department.
Many of those people will donate money without taking a ticket, said Chief Harvey Mercer, talking to the Compass at the department meet-and-greet before the ball.
"The support is there, and we appreciate it big time," he said, adding the Firettes do a lot of fundraising for the department.
That support has allowed the department to add vehicles to their fleet, and to upgrade the fire hall from its former gravel-floored version to a fully equipped fire hall that serves as the base for a department that has seen a change in the type of calls they respond to.
The department is often the first place people call for an emergency, whether it's a vehicle collision, house fire, or medical emergency, said Mercer.
"Nine chances out of 10 they'll call us first," he said.
Those calls - about 115 in the past year - are more often than not for medical emergencies, and the department has responded with the appropriate training of its members.
They have an EMR on staff, and Mercer said other members are in the process of being trained to become certified emergency medical responders.
"The only thing we can't do is transport," said Mercer, who noticed fire calls are declining.
Usually, the department is called to fight fires more often than they respond to medical calls, but this year saw the department's call ratio tip to a 60 per cent medical, 40 per cent fire call balance.
But responding to emergency calls isn't all they do. The department led an initiative to develop an emergency response plan for the community, Mayor George Adams told ball attendees during a speech.
That plan was developed in partnership with the Town of Upper Island Cove, and then sent off for approval to the provincial government. Adams was told Friday afternoon that the plan is now ready to be signed off.
Whether it's emergency planning, emergency services, or directing traffic at a parade, the fire department is there, said the mayor.
"No matter what it is, you can always count on the volunteer fire department to take an active leadership role," he said.