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Firefighters

The firefighters themselves are the most important resource of any Fire Department. But there are many aspects to the job and challenges that firefighters face that are unseen by the public. This page contains information on hiring, training, and working conditions.

The Hiring Process

Medical Examination Report

Medical Exam

In order to become firefighters, the men of Fort William and Port Arthur had to meet a number of requirements. In 1962, newly hired Port Arthur firemen had to have completed Grade 10, and had to pass a one-year probation period (Fort William required three months of probation.) If the fireman received a promotion at any point in his career, he also had to pass a year’s probation for that particular position. 

New hires for the Port Arthur Fire Department were to be between 21 and 30 years old, with exceptions made for men who had served in the military. If an applicant had served in the military and was over 30, his years of service were to be deducted from his age, and if the result was under 30, he could still be considered for employment. Furthermore, firemen who enlisted in the military would not compromise their seniority by doing so, and could return to their previous position upon return from service. Applicants had to be at least 5’8”, a minimum of 150 pounds, physically fit, able to pass a medical exam, and were required to be a resident of Port Arthur. If any employee was found not to be medically fit, lighter duties around the Department would be given to him.

Firefighters' Training

Firefighters at Station

Training for the members of the two Fire Departments was of the highest importance, and sessions were held regularly and practiced with extreme vigilance. Both Port Arthur and Fort William frequently reported Fire Department members passing firefighting courses with honours. Both Departments sent students away to the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst, Ontario, where the men would improve their skills in the craft of firefighting. In 1962, the Regional Fire School, a mobile training course that the Ontario Fire College held in different districts in Ontario, came to Fort William. Firemen from both Fort William and Port Arthur attended.

In 1961, the training program for the Port Arthur Fire Department was reformed. Firefighters were to receive more instruction to ensure that newcomers were well trained, and so the experienced firefighters could learn about new equipment, techniques, and strategies. Members were also trained in first aid, an important skill to have when dealing with threats to life every day.

 

Regional Fire School, Fort William

In 1962, the Port Arthur Fire Department began using the Abitibi Power and Paper Company’s land as a training ground for firefighters. The same year, the training manual underwent a major revision. The original basic manual had outlined simple firefighting principles and concepts. The new version included information on the use of equipment, and helped the firefighters learn how to put out fires in tandem, allowing them to work more quickly. Also during the same year, the two departments announced their interest in developing a shared training facility.

In 1966, the Fort William training program for firefighters was also revitalized. The Department updated its training manual and training schedule, with two-hour sessions running Monday to Friday. All firefighters would learn the same procedures and techniques, to improve efficiency and teamwork. The daily training routine included hose evolutions, ladder practice, and the examination and mending of hose.

Working Conditions

The firefighters in Port Arthur were unionized under the International Association of Firefighters, Local 496. Benefits were provided under a health plan. If a firefighter was injured on the job, the City would pay the difference after the contribution of the Workmen’s Compensation Board to make up wages for a maximum of six months.

 

Winter Fire Scene

In 1945, firemen asked to have shifts reduced to 8 hours, from the existing 10-hour day or 14-hour night shift. A 48-hour workweek was soon passed by the Port Arthur Trades and Labour Council, and became effective June 1, 1946. Twelve years later, a shorter 40-hour work week was granted, resulting in a need for more employees. Nine extra positions were created. In Fort William, 1960 saw a change to a 44-hour work week from a 48-hour work week, run on a two week cycle.

Standards set by the National Fire Protection Association required the Port Arthur Fire Department to have at least 120 firefighters listed as employees. When the recommendation was made in 1960, the Department only had 69 firefighters. Being short-staffed seemed to be a common state of affairs for both cities. In Fort William in 1920, for instance, there were 16 men on an average shift. In 1956, the numbers had decreased to 8 men per shift, which Chief Harold Lockwood was adamant about improving.

For more information on this subject, or any other subject of interest, please visit or contact the City of Thunder Bay Archives.