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The History of Sullivan Volunteer Fire Department

This was a speech written and given by Wes Gillis to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sullivan Volunteer Fire Department. The presentation was made in the fall of 1968 and laid out the early history of the Sullivan Volunteer Fire Department over the last 25 years. The speech was found among the Wes Gillis papers and donated by Robert Povarchook

In the early part of 1944 the Department of National Defense advised the Air Raid Protection (A.R.P.) that a certain country at war with us had, in their possession, incendiary leaflets, and that should their air craft carrier arrive to the west of us, their aircraft could cover the Lower Mainland in seven minutes, and by dropping these leaflets which would ignite when dry, could set fire to the whole area at that time. It was therefore in the interest of all concerned that the A.R.P. carry out Civil Defense protection to counter–act the leaflets.


The Corporation of the District of Surrey appointed G.A. Hooser as Air Raid Precautions Controller to co–ordinate all services, one of which was fire protection from air raids and sabotage. The Municipality were issued Wajax Forestry Pump units. These were gas operated, and supplied with 1000 feet of 1–1/2 inch hose. These units in turn were distributed throughout the Municipality at the discretion of the A.R.P. Controller.


Since all services were on a volunteer basis it was not always possible to set up a centre in a particular area. This condition applied in Sullivan at the first proposal that a unit be stationed and manned in the area. However, on May 5, 1944 one house caught fire from an unattended rubbish fire. It was burned to the ground and another house caught fire. At this time the Cloverdale area had a pumper with a trained crew. This unit was called to the fire with Gordon Bingham and Ralph Flintoff in charge. They saved the house of A.L. Grant on Turnbull Road, Sullivan. Impressed with the efficiency and dispatch with which these trained men directed the fire and by saving the house with minimum of loss, the neighbours attending the fire immediately called a meeting of the local residents of Sullivan for the purpose of establishing a fire protection unit in the area. A meeting was arranged at the home of A.W. Gillis on the Johnson Road, at which A.R.P. Controller, G.A. Hooser attended. At that meeting a Wajax Forestry gas operated pump unit was allocated to the Sullivan area, providing a volunteer crew could be provided and a vigorous training program be instituted. Mr. Hooser was assured this would be carried out and he, in turn, provided the equipment May 20, 1944. We then became known as The Sullivan Auxiliary Fire Service No. 5. Our unit was kept at the farm of Tom Johnson, who in turn supplied a car pup trailer to carry the equipment to practices and fires.


Tom Johnson and Wes Gillis

This is a picture of Tom Johnson and Wes Gillis with the first portable forestry pump used at Sullivan Fire Department. Wes Gillis is on the left and Tom Johnson on the right. The pump is a WAJAX Forestry Pump that was supplied by G.A. Hooser from the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) in May of 1944. Photo is courtesy of Lorne Pearson.


portable trailer pump

When World War II ended, the Municipality of Surrey purchased four portable trailer pumps from the Air Raid Precaution [A.R.P.]. This one has a customized trailer, but the one that Sullivan received in May of 1944 was just the pump and Tom Johnson provided the trailer to transport it. One of these trailer pumps is presently located at the City of Surrey Museum.


At the initial organization of the volunteer fire service, Tom Johnston was appointed Fire Chief of the designated area. A six man team was immediately selected from the group of volunteers for an intensive training program to compete for a B.C. Auxiliary Fire Service Shield, presented to the best team performance in the operation of the Forestry Pump. The Sullivan team, which consisted of; Captain Tom Johnston, Wes Gillis, Ross Grant, Lloyd Wahlund and Len Thomas, had the distinction of winning that shield, which now hangs in the recreation room of the new hall. Many thanks must given to the Cloverdale Fire Department, the New Westminster Fire Department and Sergeant Hughes of the Air Raid Precautions Office at Vancouver for their assistance in the training for the competition as that made it possible for the Sullivan team to win the shield.


The area allocated to the Sullivan area was set out as follows: commencing at the intersection of the Pike and Townline Roads; thence south following the Archibald Road to Ewenson Road; thence west and following Ewenson Road to Scott Road; thence south and following Scott Road proceeding to the shoreline of Mud Bay; thence southeasterly and southerly and following the shoreline of Mud Bay to the Nicomekl River; thence northeasterly and easterly following the Nicomekl River to Pike or Boothroyd Road; thence north following Boothroyd or Pike Road to the point of commencement.


With this vast area to cover, fire protection with one forestry unit appeared impossible. With this factor in mind the Sullivan group canvassed the area for the purpose of adding to the present equipment. The group returned with a favourable report, and with this information Messrs. Johnston, Grant and Gillis purchased a 1933 1-1/2 ton Chevrolet truck from Langley Auto Wreckers, on April 27, 1945, on credit, with the arrangement that they be allowed ten days to make the payment of $420.00 for the vehicle. This arrangement was granted to the three men and in three days $649.00 was raised by public subscription in the foregoing area. Full payment was made on the truck May 3, 1945.


In the same year the Corporation of the District of Surrey, Reeve J.T. Brown and Council, made a grant of $600.00 to the Sullivan area for a fire hall. With donations from Brown's Transfer Co., Cloverdale; Gilley Bros, New Westminster; Penfold Roofing Co., Vancouver; and volunteer labour, an 18 X 30 foot building was erected on the site where the new building now stands. With regard to the purchase of the 1933 1–1/2 ton Chevrolet truck work commenced on the chassis immediately, a 150 gallon water tank was mounted on the truck and a Wajax Pump connected from the power take off to the tank and so designed to pump water from a well or out of the tank and discharge to the fire. Much of the engineering credit must go to Ed Hamre and Highway Garage staff at Cloverdale. About a year after the purchase of the truck the body work was completed and it took the lines of a fire truck. With this new addition to the area, the name changed to the Sullivan Volunteer Fire Department, as by now the fire hall was erected and the siren placed on top of the building, together with the converted truck painted fire engine red. The community was proud of its efforts. Still the Department was lacking funds as the only donations that were received were from some who attended fires and most of the time the Firemen had to pay for gas and oil for the operation of the truck. In the first half of 1947 another subscription drive was made for funds and the result of that drive was the $493.50 was collected. This enabled the Department to purchase; hose, nozzles, chemicals, etc., so that both the truck and the Forestry pump could be used at the same time on in conjunction with one another.


Sullivan Volunteer Firemen

This picture is of the Sullivan Volunteer Firemen posed in front of the 1933 1–1/2 ton Chevrolet truck with a 150 gallon tank mounted on the back. Much of the engineering was completed by Ed Hamre. It had been built by the volunteers to house the tanker truck and the A.R.P. pump.


This is a picture of the first Sullivan Fire Hall, I do not have the first date, but I think it was built in 1946. When this hall was torn down in the mid 1950s (notice I did not say demolished), the lumber was salvaged and given to Johnston Heights to build a new fire hall. If you look at a picture of the Johnston Heights fire hall from that era, it look identical to Sullivan's Hall. At that time Johnston Heights, Surrey Hall 6, was known as Sullivan's Auxiliary Fire Service, Johnston Heights Branch.
The first volunteer chief at Sullivan was Tom Johnston, in this picture he is wearing the plaid shirt. The truck shown was affectionately referred to as Giggling Gertie – the truck was also given to Johnston Heights. When Johnston Heights were through with it Tom Johnston purchased it from the fire department for $35 and made it into a farm tractor. He later sold the battery for $35, so it was a pretty good deal.
Lorne Pearson, retired fire chief and local historian.

By now it was 1948 and $390.00 was spent on the truck for an overhaul. This work became necessary due to the increase in the number of fires and especially bush fires, at which times the equipment pumped water for several hours at a time; also the community was growing and there was a need for better equipment. In the latter part of 1948 the Department was able to arrange with the Cloverdale Fire Department to have the loan of their 150 gallon per minute portable pumper. The addition of this unit greatly improved the Sullivan Department ability tocontrol fires in the area. By this time the Provincial Fire Marshall's Office was providing a fire fighting class once a year in this area and the local volunteer firemen took advantage of all the instruction provided, from the care of equipment to the removing of sick or injured from a burning building. Through this instruction the local volunteer firemen greatly increased their efficiency in fire control. This instruction is taken yearly and is provided free of charge by the Provincial Fire Marshall's office.


1949 was routine for the Department but in 1950 it was felt that due to the size of the growing community it should be able to support a fire area by–law. If this could be implemented the Department would not only have modern equipment but could also have a second section stationed near Johnston Road and the Trans Canada Highway.


Many meetings were held outlining the proposed money by–law and the volunteer firemen accompanied by Lambert J. Burton, local assistant Fire Marshall, to inspect many fire departments on the Lower Mainland in order to ascertain the size and type of unit required for the Sullivan area's needs. From the meetings and inspections it was agreed that a three stage Bickle-Seagrave Pumper would satisfy the needs of the area. With this equipment decided on, the fire area petitioned to the Corporation of the District of Surrey for a money by–law on January 13, 1951. On January 16, 1951 the Council authorized the Municipal Clerk, Mr. Percy Livingstone to prepare and submit a money by–law for the borrowing of $15,000.00. This was done, and in due course was voted on and passed with an overwhelming majority. After the passing of the money by–law, Fire Chief Tom Johnston reported this to the British Columbia Underwriters' Association and the result was that the insurance rates were reduced in the area.


The new truck and pumper arrived in Sullivan in October 1951, delivered from McLelland Motors in New Westminster by J.T. Sullivan and O. Loney. With the arrival of the new unit, fully equipped, an extensive training program was set up so that all members of the Department would be capable of handling all phases of operation under all conditions. While this took place the former truck, Giggling Gerty, as it became known, was placed at the Johnston Road and Trans Canada Highway (now know as Johnston Heights), and Elgin Wolfe of that area became Fire Chief of the S.F.A. Unit no. 2. A temporary fire hall was built near Trans Canada Highway on Johnston Road, and a siren was placed on the Home Gas Station at the intersection. This provided better fire protection for that area. Also the Sullivan unit could proceed to that area if services were required.


It was now the fall of 1952 and with the new equipment there was a need for a hose drying tower and again the volunteer firemen undertook to erect a tower eight feet square and fifty feet high, with a cupola on top to support the fire siren. The foundation concrete was donated by A.W. Gillis Ltd. of Sullivan. Tidewater Forest Products Ltd. of Port Kells donated the frame lumber and Wilfred Goldstone of Sullivan was instrumental in getting the siding donated by Brownsville Lumber Company at South Westminster. The volunteer labour was supplied by the firemen and the tower, as it stands, cost the area less than $100.00.


1954 was a routine year. The Department was able to procure earth fill, for the rear of the building, free of charge from the Municipality. Another item of interest was the purchase of a used fire truck from North Vancouver for Johnston Heights, replacing the original 1933 Chevrolet that was converted in 1945. The purchase of the used unit was $2,500.00 and was paid for out of the current budget.


In the early months of 1955 the Fire Department discussed the possibility of building a new modern fire hall with provision for expansion to suit the fire area requirements. Foundation plans were drawn and approved by the Building Inspector's Office and the overall proposal approved by R.C. Feather, Surrey's Fire Chief and Fire Protection Officer, provided the Sullivan Department had the funds. When the Department received this information the plan was revised so that a building could be erected in the future and a master plan set up so that each year, as funds were available, a portion of the work could be carried out. So in 1955 a foundation for a 36 X 60 foot building, two stories high was started and completed. Earth fill was procured from the Municipality and the matter rested for the time being. After the foundation forms were taken off, the lumber was shipped to Johnston Heights to help construct a permanent Fire Hall in that area, on land purchased the previous year.


In the 1956 budget $5,000.00 was allowed for further work on the Sullivan Fire Hall and after final plans were drawn, the frame of the building, with minimum facilities, was estimated and guaranteed to cost not more that $10,000.00 and to be budgeted over a two year period. When this was presented to the Council they decided to build the frame of the building in 1956 and this was carried out. During 1957, the volunteer firemen were able to install a heating plant, and finish the major part of the inside on the 2 story building. All of the labour being donated by the volunteer firemen, and a great amount of the inside finish was donated. James T. Sullivan, former active fireman of the area, donated an electric stove and Gillis' Cabinet Shop donated the kitchen cupboards. A pool table for the recreation room was donated by J.A. Loney, and in January 1958 volunteer help was forthcoming to carry the project to completion. On January 25, 1958 the new Sullivan Fire Hall was officially opened by Surrey Reeve Bob Nesbitt. Open house was from 2:00 pm (till ?) with refreshments and a band provided.


The new Sullivan Fire Hall New Sullivan Fire Hall

Sullivan volunteers, built their second hall over 3 years, from 1955 to 1958. Both the first and second halls were built on the same property. Lorne Pearson, retired fire chief and local historian.

Little did the fire area realize in May 1944 that a Forestry Unit and later with a second hand truck worth $400.00 and a grant of $600.00 from the Municipality, that the fire area in 1958 would have equipment and buildings worth in excess of $65,000.00. That many of the men who pledged their support to man the Forestry unit are still pledging their support to the fire area in 1958, and are just as eager to continue their efforts as Volunteer Firemen of the Sullivan Volunteer Fire Department as they were on May 15, 1944.


The years move quickly along and in the early 1960s a thousand gallon tanker was built on a 1954 chassis by Surrey Fire Department's manufacturing division and delivered to the Sullivan Fire Department to complement its 1951 hundred gallon pumper.


Surrey built 1972 International pumper

"This picture is likely vintage 1972/73, as the truck is a Surrey built 1972 International pumper. The volunteer chief at that time was Wes Gillis, he is standing directly below the person sitting in the truck. Asst. chief Don Grant is standing at the front of the pumper, wearing the Cowichan Indian sweater."
Lorne Pearson, retired fire chief and local historian.


In December 1963 Tom Johnston resigned after nineteen years of faithful service as fire chief. Wes Gillis was elected the second fire chief of the Sullivan Fire Department. He is also the only original active member remaining on the department.


In March 1966 the training at Sullivan has now been taken over by Surrey training officer Al Cleaver on a twice monthly basis replacing previous training given by the Fire Marshall's department. 1966 also sees Hall No. 9, as it is now known, taking an active interest in the muscular dystrophy campaign along with other Surrey departments with varying rewarding results.


In the spring of 1966 Hall No. 9 applies for and receives a 1956 Ford inhalator booster from Crescent Beach Hall No. 12. This brings our rolling stock to four units; pumper, tanker, inhalator and trailer pump. With this amount of equipment it becomes necessary for the volunteers to pick up their tools one more and relocate the furnace and washroom in the downstairs area; remove a back wall and install a door, thus creating a new through truck bay which allows safer loading and unloading of the fire fighting units.


Many thanks must be extended to Wes Gillis of Sullivan and Frank McKinnon of Cloverdale for countless hours donated over three years in drawing up the constitution of the Valley Volunteer Fireman's Association which was to plug some of the loop-holes in the protection of Volunteer Firemen in action and at recreational activities.


August of 1968 sees two Volunteer Firemen staying in the living quarters upstairs which would increase the efficiency of the department.


It is with the likes of the names mentioned, and you that are gathered here tonight, who have made Surrey a better and safer place to live. The present executive and fire department members of Sullivan Volunteer Fire Hall Surrey No. 9 salute you.


Editor's note: A new Fire Hall 9 (Sullivan Fire Hall) was constructed alongside 64th Avenue at 14901. This replaced the Sullivan Fire Hall built in 1958. The City of Surrey proposed to give the old hall at 6272 – 152nd Street to the Sullivan Community but due to its cement block construction it was deemed not to be earthquake proof and was torn down within two years, circa 1999.


The fire chiefs at Sullivan Volunteer Fire Hall following Wes Gillis were: Merle Hiltz, Rod Armitage, Dave Mortensen, Bill Macnab and Ken Dahl


1997 a new Sullivan Fire Hall 9

In 1997 a new Sullivan Fire Hall 9 was constructed alongside 64th Avenue at 14901. This location is also the Central Training Facility for Surrey Fire Department and the main Mechanical Service Garage.



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