Old Stratford Fire Department History: Brian Wendy Reis, Taken from Tom Dolan 8 Part Series
In the beginning, between 1858 and 1895, Stratford's firefighting equipment waskept in stalls in what was the original town hall and market building (on the site of the current City Hall), and because there was no facilities for the volunteer firemen themselves, they met in a room in the Myers Block (Limelight Restaurant etc.) at Downie and Albert Sts. When a purpose-built firehall was erected at the corner of Waterloo and Albert Sts. in 1895, volunteer Fire Chief, Peter McNab was still in charge of the department. As there were no full time men to man the new hall, the city hired Samuel Guy as a driver (of horses, not motorized equipment), and William Sarvis, as a fireman. Both were paid $1.00 a day, and they were required to sleep in the new firehall.
The city decided to hire a full-time chief, and as Mr.McNab had a good day job at the GTR shops, he declined the job, and Robert H. Myers, a volunteer with the department since 1873 was hired as the new Chief. He retired on June 30 of 1910 to go to the Stratford and Heat Commission (later called Public Utilities Commission), retired from that in 1928, and became secretary-treasurer of thePUC.
Hugh Durkin was a country boy, having been raised on a farm in Fullerton Township. He started as a driver (still with horses) with the Stratford Fire Department in 1897, became Foreman (second in command), in 1902, and Chief in 1910. He was killed at the age of 41, along with Police Chief, J.A. McCarthy, and Police Constable, Matthew Hamilton during the Knox Presbyterian Church fire on May 13, 1913, when the steeple collapsed. My grandfather lived only half a block away, and it looked to him like a ladder that was leaning against the building, deflected a large part of the debris right on top of the trio.
Alfred S. "Alf" Kappele (First photo), raised in Hamilton, succeeded Chief Durkin and took over on July 1, 1913. Mr. Kappele had been with the Hamilton Fire Department as a Lieutenant in 1897, became Chief of the Cobalt Fire Department in 1909, and was there 'til he joined the Stratford Dept. Alf was known as a man strict on discipline and teamwork; two qualities that are an absolute must in a fire department. He was also very forward-thinking, and started to modernize the department's equipment. Although they purchased a horse-drawn ladder truck early in 1914 (Second photo), the department also purchased a new motor-powered chemical and hose truck in October of that same year, and in 1923, a triple-combination pumper, hose, and chemical truck (Third photo). This 1960 photo of that truck shows James Swatridge at the wheel, with Elwood Mitchell. Mr.
Kappele's health started to fail, and he offered his resignation in January of 1944,but council appreciated his good work so much, they actually put him on leave of absence for three months; however he passed away on March 12, 1944 at 70 years, and after 31 years of service. Louis "Lou" Hammar (Fourth photo)...Lou came from a family of firefighters. His father, Charles, was a volunteer fireman for years, and his brother, Arthur was also a member of the department. Lou had started off in the plumbing trade, but was invited to join the department as a part-timer in 1906.. He kept his day job with Myers Plumbing, but his nights were at the firehall. He became full-time on July 1,1907, and was appointed Second-in-Command in 1910. He was in this position on the night of the Knox Church fire, and remembered the dieing Chief Durkin saying, "take care of things for me Lou." Lou Hammar then became assistant to
Chief Kappele from 1913 to 1944, and succeeded Chief Kappele in 1944. Heretired in 1959, and passed away at the age of 81 on November 4, 1971. He had served for over 50 years. Tom Dolan recalled conversations he had with LouHammar while he was in hospital. Chief Hammar talked about a number of fires he had attended, including one at the old General Hospital (later Avoncrest, and
RECU). While they were fighting a fire under the roof of the building, DoctorsDavid Smith, "Bud" Macklin, and David Gemmell were performing a majorsurgery without missing a beat. Joseph A. "Joe" Tarr (Fifth photo)... Joe Tarr was raised in Logan Township, and joined the department in 1929. He steadily worked his way up through the ranks, becoming Lieutenant in 1945, Captain in 1951, Assistant Chief in 1953, and Chief in 1959. Chief Tarr was a strong advocate of training, and in his first years started a regional fire school that offered training to other area fire departments, in addition to a special pumper course for Stratford firefighters. The courses were run by staff from the Ontario Fire Marshall's office. All this was in addition to the training they got at the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst. In 1960, his department offered special fire fighting and rescue familiarization programs for hospital staff. Chief Tarr's health started to fail in the mid-60's and after being onsick leave for several months, he tendered his resignation in 1966. He passed away in Florida on May 30, 1973. If anyone out there has a good photo of Joe Tarr, could you please post it...the one I'm using here is of poor quality.
James "Jim" Gillespie (Sixth photo), joined the Stratford Fire Department in 1937as a call man, and became permanent staff later that year. He was made Lieutenant in 1952, Captain in 1958, and Assistant to Chief Joe Tarr in 1959. When Chief Tarr's health deteriorated, and he went on leave of absence, Jim was made Acting Chief, and he was confirmed as Chief in 1966. When the new firehall was built on Erie St., Chief Gillespie had a lot of input in the design of the facility. In 1970 he hosted the Ontario Fire Chief's Convention in Stratford. He was an enthusiastic historian, especially when it came to local history, and played a big part in the museum at the Erie St. firehall, and it was on his initiative that the Freeland Memorial Fountain was rescued from an east end salvage yard. He had hoped that the bell from the Waterloo and Albert St. firehall might be mounted on top of the fountain, but the bell was out of proportion, and City Council decided to place the fountain in upper Queen's Park. Jim Gillespie passed away on Oct. 2, 1970 at the age of 55.
Robert "Bob" Jesson started as a call man with the department in November of 1938, and full-time fireman in July 1939. In 1953 he became a Lieutenant, rose rapidly to Captain in 1959, Deputy Chief in 1968, and Chief in November of 1970. During Chief Jesson's time in office, the traditional "fire-engine red" trucks changed to "fire-engine yellow." Chief Bob Jesson retired in March 1977.
James "Jim" Farmer (Eighth photo) joined the Stratford Fire Department in 1948, and was Lieutenant from 1969 to 1972, at which time he was named Deputy Chief. He succeeded Chief Robert Jesson, upon his retirement in 1977, and remained in the position of Chief until he resigned in 1986. During Jim's term as Fire Chief, a second firehall was built on McCarthy Road.
I've cut a lot of little anecdotes out of this to save you from having to read it all night, but if you can lay your hands on all eight of Tom Dolan's series, it would make for very interesting reading. I don't know if the Archives digitizes Beacon-Herald articles, but it might be worth asking.