History of the Southwest Arm Fire Department

Reprinted with permission from the book Hodge’s Cove by Eric Stringer, 2011

Note: The greater part of this item was prepared sometime in the early 1990’s by Brad Drodge when he was a member of the Fire Department, and has been updated by the author (E.S.) with assistance from members of the Department. The Fire Department isn’t, strictly speaking, an entity associated with Hodge’s Cove only. But since home base is here, let’s go with it.

Fire Hall (Photo from Les Vey Collection)

The origin of the Southwest Arm Fire Department goes back to the early 1980’s when a group of people representing the communities from Long Beach to Southport got together to try and form a fire brigade, something this group felt was badly needed in this area.

After a series of meetings with people in each community, it was decided that money would then be collected from the people who were willing to support the effort.

Eventually some $6,107.83 was collected to go toward purchasing a fire truck-pumper. As time went on they ran into a problem. The government was not willing to participate in any sort of cost-sharing venture unless there was some sort of community council to take responsibility for paying off this new equipment. The next step was to try to get the communities to arrange this. This is when they ran into the problem of not being able to arrange enough support (from individual communities in the area).

There was a period of time when there was not much movement with the committee, and after much consideration it was decided that it would be very difficult to get this project off the ground. It was then decided that a committee made up of people from Hodge’s Cove would take over from where the others left off.

In May of 1982 these people were successful in incorporating a Local Service District for Hodge’s Cove.** The wheels then started turning again and it wasn’t long before the Local Service District of Hodge’s Cove, in conjunction with the Department of Municipal Affairs, implemented a 75% – 25% cost-sharing arrangement, with the Local Service District taking responsibility for the 25%. The $6,107.83 that had been previously collected was then turned over to the Local Service District. The Lions Club of Hodge’s Cove – Caplin Cove donated $4,200.00 to go along with a $3,000.00 loan the Local Service District needed to borrow in order to raise their share of the 25%, thus setting the wheels in motion to get a new fire truck and some basic fire-fighting equipment.

Author Note: It should be understood that the Southwest Arm Volunteer Fire Department is not a totally autonomous body. Rather, it is a project sponsored by the Local Service District of Hodge’s Cove, which is ultimately responsible for the Fire Department. However, the Local Service District has had fantastic cooperation from the Fire Department and from people in the surrounding communities who contribute their fair share financially toward the program.

Then in April 1984 the new equipment arrived causing a real stir of activity in the area. By January 1985 the Southwest Arm Fire Department had been established with well up towards 75 members. Lorne Green, who had had some experience in the Sunnyside Fire Department, became the Department’s very first fire chief, a position he held until May 1985.

It was then decided by the Local Service District of Hodge’s Cove that each household in the area would be asked to pay $1.00 per month to help pay expenses and operation of the fire department with fund-raising coming from the fire department’s members making up the remainder.

We had a temporary place to put our truck, which was Herb Spurrell’s garage, but we needed a permanent facility. Herb was approached to see if he would be interested in selling his building. After a short period of time the answer came back. Now we had a permanent place to put our truck. Money was raised to buy the building and install heaters and insulation to ready the building for our use.

Over the past nine years, with the help of a lot of people plus several government grants, we now have a two-storey fire hall which has on the ground floor the furnace room plus two bays in which are the main fire truck, a 1982 GMC and the 1990 GMC van ($25,000.00) that was re-fitted with oak cabinets by Harry Stringer, Jr. and Kevin Marsh. The upstairs floor has a large meeting room off which are an office and a canteen. As well, there are two washrooms plus the Local Service District office. Plans are in the works to build an extension to the ground floor to provide much-needed storage space. Also, a considerable amount of money has been put aside with the plan to purchase a new, more efficient fire truck sometime in the next five to ten years.

A lot of time has been put into the Fire Department by its members, but it has to be stressed the importance that the Local Service District has played in getting funding and grants from the government. There is no doubt that we would have a long way to go to be at the stage we are at now without their support.

With regard to fund-raising over the past dozen or so years, various activities were pursued. There have been goods bingos, car washes, bottle drives, take-out suppers, TV bingo, and so on. At the present time our fund-raising consists largely of four events. We sell community calendars; each year we hold a ski-doo-a-thon; we sell tickets on a large item (e.g., a boat and motor). But our main fund-raiser would have to be our TV bingo. This is a joint venture with the Hodge’s Cove – Caplin Cove Lions Club. It has been so successful that it has taken a lot of pressure off our fund-raising committee thus enabling the organization to run more efficiently.

It should also be noted how important the Lions Club has been. They provided their Lions building for our use when we didn’t have a place to hold our meetings. Also they have over the past years given us numerous money donations, not to mention several bunker suits that cost almost a thousand dollars each. They also played a very large part in starting TV bingo with us and the operation of it each week.

The fire chiefs we have had since we organized are:

Name                            Duration (from … to)

Lorne Green                 January 1984              May 1985
Cyril Stringer               May 1985                     September 1988
Edward Whalen          September 1988         November 1991
Avalon Drover             November 1991          2007
David Spurrell             2007                             present

In early 1990 the Fire Department, having paid for the pumper truck and having a lot of extra equipment that had been accumulated over the years, felt the need to have a new equipment van. With help from the Local Service District, we purchased the equipment van in the summer of 1991. The van carries four walkie-talkies plus a VHF radio that can be used to contact the police or an ambulance should the need ever arise. Also stored in the vehicle is everything from bunker suits to fire blankets to first aid kits to breathing apparatuses.

We have responded to numerous fires over the past fifteen years. Luckily there have been no fatalities in our area. We have had various house fires plus a fire at the high school at Little Heart’s Ease that resulted in considerable damage. There also was a business establishment that was burnt, generally believed to be the result of arson. Also, in our area, several large boats have burnt.

We have our regular Firemen’s Ball around the middle of March each year. This event is held at the Lions Club and is always very successful.

The members of the Fire Department are very proud of their fire brigade and have been complimented from high ranking officials from the Fire Commissioner’s office on how effective and professional our department has become in such a short period of time. This is due mainly to the fact that the people involved take their duties very seriously and always act in a very professional and orderly manner.

The Fire Department has been very active in the area helping out with such events as having a barbecue for the senior high school graduating class to taking part in the annual Santa Claus Parade.

All members are trained in basic fire-fighting techniques and are all expected to have C.P.R. plus first aid training. Our members regularly attend training courses that are held in Clarenville and other places to keep our department updated on various fire-fighting procedures.

The key players in getting the Local Service District of Hodge’s Cove off the ground in the very beginning were Cyril Stringer, Les Vey, Ray Curtis, Kathleen Smith, Eric Stringer, Harold Whalen, Jr., and Bill Russell. The keys to the fire truck were passed over to members of the Fire Department and to members of the Local Service District in April 1984. I cannot seem to nail down the exact date, however. Hazel Newhook, Minister of Municipal Affairs at the time, made the official presentation.

Firemen of the Year
1999-2000         Robert Marsh
2000-2001         Ralph Baker and Albert Smith
2001-2002         Randell Meadus
2002-2003         Bryan Stringer
2003-2004         Robert Marsh
2004-2005         Duane Antle
2005-2006         Barry Avery
2006-2007         Todd Whalen
2007-2008         Robert Marsh
2008-2009         Derrick Spurrell
2009-2010         Clayton Smith

*From the 36-page booklet produced by the Lions Club and distributed to households in Hodge’s Cove and Caplin Cove, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary in 1986:
“At one of our first meetings, held in May 1977, the subject of a fire truck was discussed. The need was there, but the finances weren’t. The wheels had been set in motion.
In January 1979 the Lions Club arranged the first public meeting for communities from Long Beach to Southport. After many twists and turns the project was taken over and seen through by the Local Service District.”

Hodge’s Cove has had some form of local government for several decades. Indeed, were it not for that fact, it would have been somewhat problematic its acquiring funding through the provincial government for fire protection for the immediate area.

More recently the communities of Caplin Cove through Southport have formed their own local service district. Taxpayers of the communities of these two local service districts, plus Long Beach, have for several years been contributing fees to support the Southwest Arm Volunteer Fire Department.

In 2010, through a cost-shared arrangement with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Local Service District of Hodge’s Cove acquired a new quarter-million dollar state-of-the-art fire truck which was seriously needed to take the place of the aging GMC that had been purchased in the early-eighties.