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SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN STAR
Don Rowsell serves alongside two of his sons with Deer Lake Fire Rescue, but it was another old acquaintance that recently lit up his face.
The 47-year veteran of the department was the clear choice to get to be the first person to drive Pumper 1, the 1952 GMC Maple Leaf firetruck that had served the department well for 47 years until it was retired in 1999.
The old truck had been taken off the road in 2000 with the goal of refurbishing it. The project fell to the wayside until a couple of years ago when Deer Lake town council decided to get it back on track.
The reconditioned rig was finally delivered back to its original users in October.
Rowsell, who joined the department in May 1972, has held the rank of lieutenant, captain and deputy chief and has served on the executive committee as the communications officer and secretary.
Still quite active in the department, he shows up for every training scenario and responds to calls with as much passion as ever. He's operated every truck the fire department has ever used and is the go-to guy for operating the pumpers and water flows, keeping up with the changing technology he’s seen.
The look on his face when he got to see and drive Pumper 1 again was priceless. Every firefighter in attendance gave the moment the respect it was due.
Rowsell’s two sons, Jason and Stephen, are also members of Deer Lake Fire Rescue, with 23 and 18 years of service, respectively.
Jason responded to calls on Pumper 1 before it was decommissioned. He was just as excited as his father to see it finally running again.
Stephen may not have responded to calls on the old pumper, but he remembers getting to ride in it as a kid. It had already been taken out of service and was slated to be rebuilt when he joined in 2001.
“I can remember being probably four years old and, at the time, the firefighters had to do truck checks on their own,” said Stephen. “Everyone took a turn. Dad and another firefighter took me out on a ride to give her a run and I couldn’t even see over the dash. I had to move over to one side every time he had to change a gear.”
The firefighting tradition in the Rowsell family is likely to continue for some time to come. Stephen’s 15-year-old son Colin joined the department’s Junior Firefighter Program this year after spending plenty of time at the fire hall with his dad, uncle and grandfather.
Restoring old pumper truck was a history lesson for volunteer
Shane Blackmore and Larry Matchim of Scott’s Transport worked together on their time off researching the truck to make sure it was rebuilt properly.
Blackmore had a particular attachment to the truck as it brought back memories of his dad who worked on trucks similar in age.
"It was actually a blast doing it.” - mechanic Shane Blackmore
“My dad was born in ’45 and started working on trucks at the early age of 11,” he said. “That was 1956, so I am sure he worked on a truck and engine similar to this one.”
He and Matchim spent many evenings and weekends putting their spare time into the truck.
“Larry did a lot of research because it was like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Blackmore. “We’d put parts on and then find another part that needed to go on there, too, so we’d have to take it apart and start over. It was actually a blast doing it.”
He said they had a great time bringing this fine truck back to life and mobile again.
“It was great to learn about that part of the town’s heritage and to work on the truck and see the differences in technology from then to the trucks we work on now."
It’s the historical significance of the truck that really made the project rewarding for Blackmore.
“Lots of respect owed to the firefighters who worked on this truck, protecting the town for 40 years,” he said. “Imagine the crews that this truck has had on her for 40 years. Brave men right there.”
About Pumper 1
- 1952 GMC Maple Leaf. Built by LaFrance-Foamite in Toronto, Ont.
- It has a 250-gallon water tank
- Delivered to Deer Lake March 1, 1952. Prior to its arrival, firefighters stored hoses in homes around town and grabbed them when needed.
- The truck was in service until 1999 and was taken off the road in 2000 to be refurbished, but those plans got sidelined.
- In 2018, the Deer Lake town council approved a plan to finish the project.
- Scott’s Transport provided a garage and two mechanics to rebuild the pumper.
- Source: Deer Lake Fire Rescue
(Lieut. Andrew Rogers is the public relations officer for Deer Lake Fire Rescue)