by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
For more than 65-years, Morinville’s local Fire Department has been steadfast as it keeps a watchful eye over the town.
The Morinville Fire Department (MFD), which is regularly dispatched to fight fires, to attend to motor vehicle collisions, and to provide assistance at medical aids, is manned by a large group of volunteer members.
Firefighters respond to calls on any day of the week and at any time of the day. They are committed to the community in a big way—volunteers engage in intensive on-going training and education, they help to raise safety awareness, and they willingly give up their free time (which means being away from their families and, in some instances, putting themselves in dangerous situations).
This commitment has been a tradition of MFD since its inception.
A rich history
The Town’s modern Fire Department first emerged in 1950.
Before this, a 15-member Fire Brigade was responsible for attending to fires in town. Council established the Brigade in 1921, paying them $5 per blaze.
In 1940, a massive fire destroyed nearly an entire block in Morinville. This loss ultimately led to the municipality going bankrupt (and the Provincial Government taking over for a period). During that particular fire, the Town’s warning siren was one of the first things destroyed, and the municipality’s poor financial situation did not bode well for the Fire Department.
Things did finally turn around, in 1950, under Mayor Arthur Soetaert, the new era of Fire Department in Town took shape. Leo Pelletier was named Morinville’s first Fire Chief and was given a salary of $100 per year, though he only served for one year.
From the very beginning, Wednesday night training for volunteers became a tradition at the hall, which is still practiced by members to this day.
In the 1960s, Morinville experienced a substantial population increase causing a greater need for fire services. Under Fire Chief Ray McDonald, the department also entered into a fire service agreement with Alexander First Nation and covered a portion of Sturgeon County as well.
Throughout the 1970s the department continued to grow and continued to be an integral part of the community. MFD was heavily involved in special occasions like Frontier Days and organized a wildly popular annual event, the Fireman’s Ball.
In the 1980s, MFD began to evolve once again. The first female firefighter, Donna O’Flannigan, was recruited to the department, formal uniforms were introduced, and a new Fire Hall was constructed (the building Morinville Fire currently uses).
In the decade afterward, Morinville’s Volunteer Firefighters grew in membership to about 35 and formal training took shape. At this time, the Town held special recognition as being the first rural fire department in the Province with the ability to access the ‘Jaw of Life.’
“The Department has come a long way,” noted Morinville’s current Fire Chief, Brad Boddez, in an interview, “one of our past Chiefs, Don Found, always had a great vision for the Fire Department. Our service has changed since those days, we’ve obtained new trucks and equipment, but that original legacy remains at the Hall.”
Today, Morinville has 52 volunteer firefighters. Some are also career firefighters with the City of Edmonton, at CFB Edmonton, and professional wildland firefighters. Others have completely unrelated day jobs.
As the Town expands, so does the number of new houses and vehicles on the road. Over the last ten years, MFD has responded 96 fires, 16 of which were in 2015 alone.
In 2014, MFD was dispatched to 283 calls and the following year, calls were up by over eight per cent, to 310 calls.
“You can never really tell why calls might be up over a past year,” explained Boddez, “last year was an odd year with lots of fires. This year, so far, has been a lot more quiet.” Boddez admits, however, calls for traffic collisions are up over last year.
Boddez describes Morinville’s Fire Hall, equipment, and department as state of the art. Also setting MFD apart is its particular branches of expertise in fire prevention, training, and investigations.
“We are so proud to have the department that we do. As a Fire Chief, I am very proud of the men and women that contribute to MFD, and for the Town support we have. We have a great Council and a great Administration that has worked side-by-side with us for a lot of things. The citizens of Morinville are incredibly supportive as well.”
In a statement to the Morinville News, the Town called MFD invaluable.
“They ensure they are professionally trained and continue to improve their knowledge in order to their job. The families of members are also important to recognize as they (also) dedicate their time, plans and life to ensure members can be available at a moment’s notice. Thank you to our fire department members and their families!”
Morinville Fire Department Facts:
• Don Found, the namesake of Morinville’s Fire Hall, was appointed as Fire Chief in 1974; he first joined the department in 1964.
• Morinville’s current Fire Chief, Brad Boddez has been a member of the MFD for 29-years. Boddez’ predecessor, Chief Ron Cust, is his Uncle.
• MFD used to have a mascot, a real-life Dalmatian named Bailey.
• An expansion to the Town’s Don Found Fire Station may occur in 2020 (at an estimated cost of $1.5M). A second Fire Station, for the south part of Town, is listed in Morinville’s Long Range Capital Plan, to be constructed in 2035 (at an estimated cost of $4M).
• Morinville currently has six different types of Fire Trucks, including a restored 1950 Pumper Truck the department uses during events such as parades.
• Six of Morinville’s firefighters were deployed to fight the massive Fort McMurray blaze in 2016. MFD also helped at the Slave Lakes fires with personnel and supplies in 2011.
Fire Prevention Week
Fire Prevention Week is a nationally recognized event, taking place from October 9 to 15. Locally, however, the Morinville Fire Department is raising awareness on fire safety issues for the entire month.
The 2016 campaign theme is, “Don’t wait! Check the date! Replace smoke alarms every 10 years.”
As part of Fire Prevention Week, MFD is encouraging residents to partake in an initiative called, ‘The Chimney Sweep Program,’ in partnership with a business called, Chim-Chimney Ltd.
Residents can contact MFD to arrange a chimney sweep in their home at a discounted price during the month of October.
According to the Alberta Fire Commissioner’s Office, between 2006 and 2015 two fires in Morinville have started in chimneys, resulting in over $60,000 worth of damage.