| Feb 28, 2008

Feature Article - February 28, 2008

Back toHome

Feature Article - February 28, 2008 Fifty years of firefighting By Jeff Green

Every Monday night, about 25 volunteer firefighters, some young, some older, make their way to the fire hall in Hartington for training in firefighting or emergency response. This group of people might not think about it every week, but the tradition of community service they are carrying on so well goes back a half a century.

The Portland district firefighters have been part of the South Frontenac Fire Department for the past 10 years, but before that they formed the Portland Fire Department. 2008 marks 50 years since a group of people that included Bevan Lambert (who became the first fire chief), Ray Leonard, and Reg Watson, approached Portland Council with a proposal to establish a volunteer fire department. Before that, fire services were provided in Portrland township under contract from the Loughborough Fire Department.

The Portland department was formed in the spring of 1958, and a fire hall, which is still in use, was built in Hartington later that year. The hall has been expanded twice since then. Years later, a sub-station in Verona was added.

In the early years, the department responded mostly to fires in the small communities that dotted Highway 38 and vicinity, and through mutual services agreements they were also called to fires in neighbouring communities in Frontenac and Lennox and Addington counties. But as time went on and the population has increased, volunteer forefighters have become involved in other kinds of calls - from motor vehicle collisions to other accidents and to medical calls.

The number of calls the Portland firefighters respond to each year has climbed steadily.

“In 1962, the department responded to 35 calls according to our records,” said Deputy Fire Chief Bill Babcock, “and by 1990 the number was 83. Last year we responded to 180 calls.” Bill has been a veteran of the service for 35 + years.

The level of training has also increased over the years, and equipment has been upgraded with the addition of the jaws of life, ice rescue equipment, and new fire trucks.

Part of the jump between 1990 and today is due to the integrated response the firefighters in South Frontenac have developed, whereby Portland crews respond to fire calls in Loughborough and Portland.

“The nature of the calls we respond to has changed as well,” said Ben Lappen, a 20-year veteran of the force, “We used to go to a lot of grass fires but those have subsided, and the calls on 38 have jumped as the road has grown busier and busier. Most of our calls now are medical calls.”

On Saturday, June 7, the department will be holding a Social BBQ and Gathering at the hall on Holleford Road to mark the anniversary, and in preparation for that event, work is being done to put together some historical documentation about the department.

Anyone who has photos, documents, or any other kind of record about the department, its formation or its history is being asked to contact Bill Babcock (613-372-2265) or Ben Lappen (613-374-2808), to help put a presentation together for the event.

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.