5 Platoon – A Short History of the Winnipeg Fire Department Pensioners
Many of the following operations that are performed by the Winnipeg Fire Department Pensioners are unique to our city and, as far as we know, no other Fire Department Pensioners Organization in North America is as active as we are.
The Winnipeg Fire Fighters Newsletter
In 1986, newly retired District Chief Gerry Humphreys instituted his longtime dream of getting a regular newsletter started to keep everyone aware of the ongoing happenings in the department. He lobbied long and hard to make the Newsletter a reality. Finally, he convinced the Union Executive that this would be a worthwhile endeavour.
Gerry passed away in 1996 but the work went on. After 15 years, it seems that he was right. The Winnipeg Fire Fighters Newsletter is alive and well with a new edition coming out every three months.
In the winter of 1985, a couple of active Fire Department members in the Fire Fighters Curling League at the Fort Rouge Curling Club spoke about not having seen some of their old crew-mates since they retired. They decided to put on a breakfast for the pensioners so they could renew old acquaintances. Frank Lanyon and Ken Sim organized the first one during the early winter of 1985. The first one was held on November 26. Sixty-three pensioners turned out and the project was off and running.
By the time the next year came around, Gerry had retired and he was inveigled into taking over the organization and running of the next season’s breakfast meetings.
Since then, the location has changed a couple of times, but the Breakfasts are more popular than ever. Over 100 pensioners show up each month during the winter no matter how bad the weather is. Another constant is that Frank Lanyon and friends are still doing most of the work, serving the food and cleaning up the tables later.
The HOT LINE
Gerry was a real innovator. He was convinced that the Fire Department should have an informational telephone line. First he tried to convince the Manitoba Telephone System that he should be given the telephone number “222 3473”. The 222, of course, was the traditional signal for a second alarm. The 3473 are the keys with the letters “FIRE”. It turned out that the 222 prefix, a Transcona number was not available. He settled for 254, which is the prefix for most of St. Vital.
He got permission from the Chief to locate the outgoing answering machine in a St. Vital fire station, and the next step was to get the money to pay the monthly phone bills. A couple of months later, after a lot of arm twisting, wheedling and bullying, the Winnipeg Fire Fighters Game & Fish agreed to back the HOT LINE financially.
In 1999, the Game & Fish felt that they could no longer support the HOT LINE and the Fire Department Pensioners took over. It was suggested that to pay the bills, a 50-50 raffle would be held at each Breakfast. This was instituted and as of this writing, the Pensioners are raising enough money to keep on paying the phone bills. It is difficult to determine how many callers this system receives, but with a lot of help of the fire fighters, retired and active, the HOT LINE is keeping everyone up to date on upcoming events.
The “Flood of the Century”
In April 1997, Salvation Army Captain Neil Lewis, our Fire Department Chaplain, called George Smith, retired Assistant Deputy Chief and asked if he could round up a few retired fire fighters to volunteer for a couple of days to assist the Salvation Army in manning their vans to supply food and drinks to dike workers. To quote a phrase from an old movie, “This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The volunteers, both retired and active supplied food and beverages to flood workers for the next 19½ days. In this period of time, there were nearly 400 man/days put in by pensioners and almost 200 by the active, off-duty fire fighters. The statistics for the food distributed was staggering. George Smith and Captain Les Irwin, who took his annual leave to help, ran the dispatch and spent many long hours at Salvation Army Flood Headquarters keeping the vans going to where they were needed.
The Support Group
Neil and George began working on a project that Neil had been thinking of for some time. Between them, they organized the Support Group.
They set up a very dedicated group of volunteers from the fire services, both active and retired. They and their wives provide understanding, assistance and guidance to fire fighters and their families who suffer through illness, injury and bereavement.
The Honour Guard
The next step was the logical formation of a permanent Honour guard. With the complete cooperation of the Administration of the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Services, the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, Local 867 and the Salvation Army. A very tightknit Honour Guard consisting of 11 retired and 8 active fire fighters was formed.
The Union Local and the Administration cooperate in purchasing full uniforms for retired members and supplying transportation to and from all funerals. If the family wishes, the Fire Fighters Historical Society also gets involved by bringing a vintage fire truck to all funerals if one is available. The on duty Battalion Chief also supplies transportation for the Chaplain and his assistant.
A ceremonial bell was donated to Fire Department Chaplain Lewis in 1996 by retired Assistant Deputy Chief George Smith and his wife Kathy, District Chief Les Irwin and his wife Billie and Brant Irwin.
When a member of the Honour Guard strikes the bell three times to denote the homesafe alarm, it makes for an extremely emotional feeling. The homesafe bell is also struck in every station in the city upon the commencement of the funeral.
The full Fire and Paramedic Services Funeral Protocol, when requested by the family, consists of:
- The Chaplain and his assistant
- Honour Guard
- The nearest station to the funeral location attends with their pumper
- The Historical Society with a vintage piece of fire apparatus (when available)
The Canadian Flag and the Fire Paramedic Banner is raised to half staff 48 hours before the day of the funeral and at sunrise on the day of the funeral. At the time of the funeral, it is raised to full mast
Other Members of the Honour Guard
Alan Bartley, Victor Basarowich, Pat Colburn, Greg Collicut, Ralph Ens, John Giesbrecht, Noel Jasper, Bruce Johnson, Marcel Lafond, Gary MacDonald, Brad Mazur, George Morhun, Bob Poole, Gary Rasmussen, John VanRoon
The Food Van
The Food Van, christened Fire 711 by one of the active members of the department, is another innovation. The van is a complete mobile kitchen, which was donated to the Winnipeg Fire Department Pensioners by the Salvation Army. The van is used to supply coffee and refreshments to all emergency services, Fire Ambulance, Police and Military, in case of fires, standoffs mock disasters or any other emergency situation.
When requested by an Incident Commander, the van will respond to any location within a 60 km radius. It is manned entirely by members of 5 Platoon, stocked by the Salvation Army and stored in a central Winnipeg fire station. The onduty platoon looks after keeping the exterior clean while the pensioners clean the interior after responding to an incident.
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