WEST HANTS – It was a sombre mood as the Windsor Fire Department packed up their gear and left the fire substation in Vaughan Oct. 23 for the last time.
The WFD announced they would discontinue service to the Municipality of West Hants in August after years of bitter contract negotiations and council announcing plans to create their own fire service.
That new fire service came into effect at noon on Friday, with the Hantsport Fire Department taking the reins at the substation in Vaughan. The Brooklyn Fire Department is overseeing the new substation in Tonge Hill. All of those stations will be paged out for automatic aid, and will cover off the county areas that Windsor once managed.
Deputy Fire Chief Bob Shay, who is responsible for Station 2, said they are poised to have a full complement at the substation.
“Well, we had some people step up and say, 'I'm going to serve my community,' and that's really the backbone of what we need,” said Shay.
The WFD had nine members stationed in Vaughan, with the main department responding automatically to calls in the area. The revamped station has six members, some of whom have already received the necessary training to be a firefighter.
“We've pretty much matched the crewing that was here before the service went into place. That's the big coup for us to be able to say we've matched what was here and now we're on the mission to surpass it and have more of a personnel base to draw from,” said Shay.
Recruitment is still underway.
Making the best of it
With five minutes remaining before the noon deadline, the two trucks that will be located at Station 2 pulled into the fire hall.
“It could've been done in a less political way,” said Shay of the process that resulted in them taking over part of Windsor's territory. “There's been a lot of rhetoric flying around but we're here. Not everybody wanted it but it's the reality we live in. Now, we're just making the best of it.”
For members of the Windsor Fire Department, saying goodbye has been difficult, especially since they helped get the station up and running.
“We would like to pass on our thanks, No. 1, for all of the support that we've been given for the last 60 years, but more inclusively the last five or six years. We also appreciate every effort that's been made to keep us involved in this,” said Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess.
“We recognize as well our volunteers who have basically stood together and united through all of this. We want to thank those folks, most definitely, and the families of our people. They've stood behind all of us.”
The WFD checked with the West Hants fire services co-ordinator if the station had the proper equipment before they left for good.
“We offered out some of ours on a temporary basis if needed. He assured us they were set and ready to go and thanked us,” said Burgess.
Several people stopped by the station in the morning to thank the WFD for their support.
“We can always go away proud knowing that we assisted and partnered to provide what is there today, and what has been there in the past 10-11 years. Who knows what the future will bring,” said Burgess.
Deputy Fire Chief Jamie Juteau said it's a surreal situation to be in, since they served the county for more than 60 years.
The WFD responded to calls in the county Oct. 22, and Juteau said it was a weird feeling returning to the station knowing that it was the last time they would be responding as the primary service provider. They will continue to provide mutual aid when requested.
“Our people are united. They're sad but united and we're moving forward. This is an undiscovered country at this point for us but we will make it happen, like we always do,” said Juteau.
Firefighters that live in the county but serve with the WFD are still welcome to remain with the town department.
Big shoes to fill
Dave Peters, the chairperson of the Southwest Hants Fire Society (SWHFS), said they received co-operation from both Windsor and Hantsport fire departments with regards to the transition.
“From the executive's point of view and the board, the transition has gone smoothly, with reservations as to how smoothly it will go in the future. There will probably be some hiccups as Hantsport gets familiar with what's available out here,” said Peters.
One of the big changes for the board is they will now be required to undertake administrative work. WFD used to receive a lump sum payment from the county, and would not only handle the operations of the fire side of Station 2, but the entire building. A portion of West Hants' funding will now go directly to the SWHFS while the other half will go to the Hantsport Fire Department.
“That's a change for us and certainly makes us a lot busier,” said Peters.
“We accept that challenge and will move forward on that in a positive way, as best as we can and meet whatever new challenges that we are unaware of at this time,” said Peters, noting they will now have to figure out who to call for septic system breakdowns or electrical issues.
Peters said he hasn't found any complaints about Windsor's protection of the area, and said many residents are sad seeing them leave.
He said the incoming firefighters have indicated they are up for the challenge of continuing to provide top notch service.
“It doesn't matter who is serving you, they are all volunteers,” said Peters. “From the community's perspective, they have big shoes to fill following Windsor.”