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Reflections of Ponoka: A salute to our Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department

In the very early pioneer days of the growing Village of Ponoka, the dreaded call of ‘fire’ at the first Telephone office resulted
Members of the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department attend to a fully engulfed truck fire out on the Queen Elizabeth Highway.

In the very early pioneer days of the growing Village of Ponoka, the dreaded call of ‘fire’ at the first Telephone office resulted in the instant response of every able bodied man and women in the area to pitch in and fight the blaze as well as trying to salvage anything that could be removed from the scene. From these humble beginnings over 110 years ago, the long and proud traditions of the Ponoka Fire Department were born and has carried on and rapidly expanded to provide the day-to-day 24-7 protection and safety to the residents and property of the Town and County of Ponoka and districts.

The colourful history of our dedicated fire-fighters

In March of 1901, with the rapid growth in population and construction in and around the thriving Village of Ponoka, our forefathers would soon recognize the vital immediate need for community wide protection and emergency measures. Their first purchase was of nine fire extinguishers from Mr. English, the official agent for the Victor Fire Extinguisher Company for a price of $18. The first firefighting equipment included a wooden cart, which was pushed by the men or pulled by horses, and included hoses, a hand pump and tanks that could be filled from the Battle River and later at the C.P.R. water tower.

With so many wooden buildings being erected in the thriving community, fires were very common, including a raging blaze in 1902 that caused $16,000 damage to the L.B. Matusch’s and Algar and Company’s General Stores as well as to the post office and barber shop, which burnt to the ground. The new chemical extinguishers were of no use at the fire, and while some goods, most of the mail, and the Jones’s Livery Barns were salvaged thanks to the persistent efforts of the citizens, the devastating losses would include valuable supplies and seven tons of flour. Mr. English would come back to Ponoka once again, this time representing the Waterous Company, to try and convince the Village Council and local businessmen to purchase a Fire Engine.

Finally in 1906, after a great deal of lobbying and two years after Ponoka had become a town, our first motor driven and fully equipped fire Eengine arrived amongst great celebration, and was temporarily housed across the street from the newly proposed fire station. In the same year, a well attended meeting of enthused citizens was held for the purpose of organizing Ponoka’s first fire brigade, and the overwhelming response would result in 20 citizens volunteering their services, with officers chosen, and a desire to get the service in operation as soon as possible. Another fire at the butcher and saddlery shop was quickly put out and held to $1000 damage by the skilled new fire brigade, which prompted Mayor McKinnell to authorize the purchase of new rubber coats for the crew. Also in May of the same busy year, the town council met with regards to building a new town/fire hall, which was approved and completed in the summer of 1907, with the fire department taking up residence at the bottom floor under the direction of Chief J.W. O’Brien. Many years later, their original 1930s GMC fire engine was fully restored, is on display in the fire hall, as well as being featured in countless parades and special events.

The steady progress of the PVFD over the years

From those colorful early years, the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department grew at an amazing pace to meet the fire safety, protection, and prevention demands of the rapidly expanding urban and rural areas in and around Ponoka. Many dedicated men and women have faithfully served on the crews over those years, which also featured the relocation of the fire brigade to the town workshop in the 1960s, and finally the opening of the fully modern new 10-bay fire hall located at 5401-48 Avenue. The facility currently contains 14 fully equipped vehicles and accessories to meet all concepts of firefighting occurrences and emergencies, as well as offices, classrooms for ongoing training programs, and a social lounge. There are currently 25 volunteers and full time Fire Chief and Director of Community Services Ted Dillon working out of the building, who also promotes and encourages a constant upgrade of equipment and rigorous ongoing training to meet the vital emergency demands of a rapidly growing community.

The present Ponoka Fire Department covers an area of approximately 500 square miles as the result of a longstanding agreement for fire services within the Ponoka County, as well as providing mutual aid to surrounding areas of Rimbey, Lacombe, Maskwacis, Bashaw and Bentley. On average, the department quickly responds to 170-200 emergency calls annually, which amounts to over 2500 hours, including structural fires, bush fires and grass fires, and yes, they have likely even rescued the odd pet out of a tree. They are also well prepared in all weather conditions to be the first responders to dangerous goods incidents and medical assists in all areas, where the use of the vital “jaws of life” is quite often required, as well as assistance to Stars air ambulance and other emergency personnel. Another very important part of their yearly efforts include the hosting of the annual toxic roundup, as well as fire prevention school tours, community safety inspections, and many other promotions that send a most important community message across in a caring and congenial way.

Members now serving on the Town of Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department are: Chief Ted Dillon (27 years) ; deputy chiefs Kelsey Hycha (24) and Dale Morrow (29); captains Bill Crawford (26), Murray Dux (19), Rob Fearon (11), Darrell Lawton (15) and Kelly Moore (14); and firefighters Reid Christensen (17), Trevor Hook (1), Robert Johnson (5), Sheldon Johnston (1), Dennis Jones (9), Ken Kraft (12), Derek Lewis (2), Colin Mason (2), Doug Nichols (4), Donna Noble (9), Matt Noble (1), Randie-Lynn Schmidt (3), Bob Sorensen (21), Keith Stebner (24), Dan Svitich (7), A.J. Wassink (1), and Jesse Witvoet, (5 years).

These unsung local heroes may be suddenly called upon to leave their families and their jobs each and every day in a split second effort to face an emergency and serve the welfare and safety of town and county citizens of all ages. With good humour and spirit, they also love to take part and volunteer over 500 hours annually to countless other community events and causes on a year round basis. Our Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department also annually donate to and support such crucial causes as burn treatment, the Diabetes and Muscular Dystrophy Association, Ponoka Wheelchair Van Society, Red Deer Search and Rescue and Dog Association, Stars and many others. Whenever you see our Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department in action, please appreciate their efforts and give them the space to do their jobs, but if you meet them on the street, in the neighbourhood, or at a special event, it would be nice to shake their hand and thank them for the tough tasks that they perform so diligently.

For more information on the Department, including programs and membership, please get in touch with Ted Dillon at 403-783-0112 or drop into the Fire Hall during the week.