Our congenial staff up at the Fort Ostell Museum in the Lions’ Centennial Park have unveiled their colorful new display honouring the first 100 years of the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department from 1906-2006. Included in the vivid display is a large wooden plaque which was prepared by Judy Crawford for the gala 2006 Centennial celebration and features the engraved names of the 184 dedicated men and women who faithfully served and fought side-by-side on the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department during the first and rapidly growing and successful century of our great community.
Also featured in the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department display are early fire extinguishers, fire hats worn by some of our earliest Chiefs and members, photos of some of the devastating fires that occurred in our community, and of course all featured under the traditional classic red, blue, and yellow Ponoka Fire Department flag. When you arrive at the Fort Ostell Museum everyone is greeted by the very early Ponoka Town Bell which was rung for fires and emergencies, as well as a large and very heavy 1914 fire extinguisher, which was at first pulled by Fire Department members and horses and was filled with water from by old pump in the Battle River.
Ponoka Fire Department history
As soon as the Canadian Pacific Railway line established the Edmonton/Calgary line in 1891 tiny settlements like Ponoka on Siding 14 began to grow rapidly and for miles in all directions! With countless new wooden buildings and structures being constructed to welcome and accommodate an influx of new pioneer families and businesses, the sudden call of FIRE day and night became imminent, and had to be reckoned with by every able bodied man and woman in the area, who pitched in to battle the blaze or to salvage anything that could be carried away from the flames.
Fire prevention would become a priority for our Town Fathers in March of 1901 when they went out and purchased nine fire extinguishers for $18.00, and in the same year they agreed to provide the growing community with a brand new Waterous Fire Engine. Ponoka officially became a town in 1904, but not until March 1906 after a great deal of lobbying and countless bad fires did the Town Council finally agree to meet for the purpose of organizing the first Volunteer Fire Department. After an enthusiastic community meeting 20 citizens would volunteer their services to join the first fire brigade, officers were chosen, while some kindly town citizens would go out and buy them all new boots, and attendance at regular fire practises was strongly encouraged. In 1907 the new Ponoka Town Hall was completed, the PFD members proudly moved their first official Fire House in September and the future was bright and safe for the community.
Fast forward to the roaring 60s: the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Brigade had become a very solid reality, with lots of personnel and equipment changes over the years, the Fire Fighters pay had reached a $1 a fire, and a modern new eight-bay Fire Hall was added to the mix at 5401-48th Avenue in 1960. Over all those years and growing into the future the Town of Ponoka always made fire protection a priority, constantly upgrading their equipment and forming a joint agreement with the County of Ponoka to serve an area of over 500 square miles around the town and county districts. Heading into their 100th year of service in 2006 the Ponoka Fire Department consisted of 25 men and women volunteer members, who under the direction of the Director of Volunteer Services Ted Dillon would attend an average of 130 fire calls a year. They had also worked hard to establish a Protective community umbrella that included liaison with the R.C.M.P. , Guardian Ambulance and the Alberta Hospital on a 24-7 365 day service! All of our Fire Department members, many who served on the Department for 10 to 30 years, would also take time off from their jobs and their families to attend the first class Fire Training School at Vermilion College. Our Fire fighters come from all walks of life and occupations, and as well as passionately striving to make our communities happy and safe places to live they are also dedicated parents, grand-parents, coaches, neighbours, friends, and extremely busy volunteers.
Over an amazing and busy span of 112 years the members of our Ponoka Fire Department were always ready, willing, and able at the sound of the alarm to put their lives on the line day and night to face thousands of fires throughout the Town and County! Some of those most memorable blazes in the earlier days would threaten entire down-town blocks, as well as massive grain elevators, the Farm dorms at the P.M.H., district barns and livestock operations, miles of unpredictable grass fires, and on and on. As the Town and Country grew their added duties included vehicle extraction, dangerous goods incidents, medical assists, emergency assistance to our busy main highways, Stars Air Ambulance, and other district Fire Departments, and so much more, including the odd stray cat! As well as so willingly taking part in countless annual fundraising and community activities and events and graciously supporting and donating to so many worthy causes, the PFD also hosted many vital yearly safety programs such as Toxic Round-Up, Fire Prevention Week and Tours, Community Safety Inspections, and on and on.
In March 2018 when both the councils of the town of Ponoka and the county of Ponoka agreed to place their fire services under the umbrella of the Ponoka County Fire Services it would bring to a close the long and colourful history of the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department. Sincere thanks to the Fort Ostell Museum and to everyone for making this much deserved historical Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department display available for young and old to see and appreciate! The supreme and dedicated efforts of these generations of former Ponoka Fire Department members, Chiefs, and support staff, many of whom have long since passed away, should always be remembered and saluted by our Town and County and the thousands of families and individuals along the way to which they have always faithfully and skillfully extended their assistance and care in desperate times of need for over 112 years!!