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Firefighters to restore 1953 Osoyoos truck to glory

Firefighters to restore 1953 Osoyoos truck to glory

Five past and present Osoyoos fire chiefs joined deputy Bill Roque for a photo with the old 1953 Mercury fire truck that members have bought back and are restoring. From left with their years as chief are: Ryan McCaskill (2017-present), Ross Driver (2004-2006), Rick Jones (2006-2017), Roque, Walter Lemke (1996-2004) and Paul Balogh (1966-1996). (Richard McGuire photo)

For an old 1953 Mercury fire truck, it may be a new twist on the expression, “What goes around, comes around.”

The first truck with a water tank and pumping system, acquired by Osoyoos in 1953 when it was brand new, is now in the new fire hall – after a few changes of hands.

Deputy Chief Bill Roque has taken charge of a project to restore the old truck to its former glory – a project begun by Garth Kunz, who has “basically” retired after more than 50 years with the department, but remains a member.

Roque said the whole Osoyoos Fire Department is behind the restoration project, but he’s also looking for support from the community.

“We would like to appeal to members of the community who have knowledge of restoring older vehicles,” said Roque. “They can perhaps come forward and help us to accomplish this goal. If someone would like to make a monetary contribution, that would work as well.”

The truck has had mechanical work including engine and brakes, but the body looks pretty rough. It’s certainly not ready to represent the fire department in parades, as Roque would like.

He sees the truck as being a way to celebrate the heritage of the fire department and its members, some of whom have served for 40 to 50 years.

Last week every past and present fire chief going back to Paul Balogh turned out at the fire hall for a photo with the truck. Balogh started with the department in 1954 and took over as chief in 1966.

They traded a few anecdotes about the truck. Balogh recalled the time he headed off to a fire with the truck leaving his chief behind. Or the time they went to fight a fire at a greenhouse in East Osoyoos, only to find the truck was gone. It turned out two boys from the greenhouse thought they’d be helpful by bringing the truck to the greenhouse themselves.

This truck made a huge difference when the department first acquired it in 1953 because it was the first truck that could carry and pump large amounts of water.

“That meant a lot for the community, because now all of a sudden we would have a reservoir of water to fight fire with,” said Roque.

“The chief of the time, Fire Chief Percy Bates, actually took the train to Ontario, picked up the truck and drove it back,” said Roque.

Before the department got this truck, they used a reel truck, which still sits in the fire hall. It had virtually no water supply, he said.

This meant firefighters had to rely on hydrants where they were available, draw water from the lake, or bring separate trucks with tanks, depending on where the fire was.

Roque doesn’t know exactly when Osoyoos sold the 1953 Mercury, but he guesses it was in the late 1960s. When Roque joined the department in 1973, the truck was no longer there.

Nor does he know all the history of what happened between when it left Osoyoos and when it returned about eight years ago. He believes it was owned by an individual in Kamloops who used it in his business.

Subsequently it ended up at auction in Vancouver and the purchaser contacted the Osoyoos Fire Department to find out if they were interested in buying it back, he said.

“A group of fire department members got together and we raised a little bit of money amongst ourselves and we purchased the truck,” said Roque.

Over the past eight years, under the leadership of Kunz, the members have worked on the engine and brakes. But with so much happening with planning, building and moving into the new fire hall, the truck project has been on the back burner for a while, said Roque.

“Now that the fire hall is operational, it’s time to get back to restoring the truck,” he said.

He wants to see the truck used in parades and community events as a showpiece.

But he and other members also want the new fire hall to showcase some of the memorabilia reflecting the history of the department.

“For me it’s the history behind it,” said Roque. “I would like that part of history to be part of our fire department culture because right now, for the new members, it’s quite different now than what it was 40 years ago. I think it’s important for them to know how things evolved, the history behind it and the sacrifices that those firemen made back then, without in a lot of cases the proper equipment. So it’s remembering the history and keeping that alive.”

Anyone willing to help with the project can contact the fire department through the town hall, Roque said.

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

Members of the Osoyoos Fire Department are restoring this old 1953 Mercury fire truck that was used in Osoyoos in the 1950s and 1960s. They bought it back about eight years ago and have restored it mechanically. Now it just needs some major body work to look brand new. (Richard McGuire photo)

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