The ’53 Pumper Truck that was used by the Chesterville Fire Department is shown beside the current fire truck in use by the firefighters of North Dundas Fire Station No. 4 in Chesterville. While the antique fire truck is no longer in service, it is lovingly maintained by members of the Chesterville Heritage Pumper Association with support from local firefighters. Thompson Goddard photo
CHESTERVILLE – Chesterville Heritage Centre (CHC), located at 14 Victoria Street, has served the community since its opening in 1867 as a municipal hall, a police station, a church, a school, and the Chesterville Fire Station. The CHC preserves and protects many of the artifacts associated with our history, and as such, a 1953 pumper truck that served its community for several decades can be found at the fire station in Chesterville. This priceless piece of our local history has been quietly but conscientiously preserved by members of the Chesterville Heritage Fire Pumper Association (CHFPA), with support from local firefighters and the community since its purchase approximately 20 years ago.
The ’53 pumper truck, was manufactured by the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company and purchased by the Chesterville municipal council to replace the reconditioned surplus army jeep with a trailer to haul firefighting equipment used for firefighting in the community in the years following the Second World War. One can only imagine the excitement and pride as the vehicle drove into town coupled with a feeling of increased safety for residents in the knowledge the firefighters would have state of the art equipment to battle fires with.
The Chesterville Record recently interviewed fire chief Mike Gruich and deputy fire chief David Lannin of North Dundas Fire Station No. 4 in Chesterville about the ’53 Pumper. Lannin explained that the fire truck was on active service in the Chesterville Fire Department between 1953 and the mid 1990s, he recalls it was used for the last time in an early 1990s fire that destroyed the Kearns Block on Main Street. Lannin mentioned how he and John Thompson are the only two firefighters currently serving, who fought fires using the ’53 pumper before it was decommissioned by the township of North Dundas as the new millennium began.
The “Chesterville Heritage Fire Pumper Association” (CHFPA) was incorporated in 2002, with membership consisting of John VanderVeen, Scott Erratt, Bruce Casselman, Mike Gruich and David Lannin. The group took possession of the ’53 pumper after its incorporation, after purchasing it from the Municipality of North Dundas. Gruich explained the committee was formed to preserve this piece of the history of the Chesterville Fire Department and save it from being sold after being declared surplus. Gruich and Lannin told the story of the ongoing restoration project, displaying a depth of devotion to the project which they explained is felt by both committee members and Chesterville firefighters. Gruich explained when the pumper was purchased it was in good condition, but their goal was to get it in “showroom condition.” Lannin described the restorative work which involved a complete restoration of the frame, the chrome, with most of the body work professionally done and mechanical work completed by local garages.
Lannin spoke of the support shown from the Chesterville firefighters to the project, commenting how a portion of their monthly firefighting income is donated to assist with the maintenance and repairs of this historic 63-year-old vehicle. Lannin and Gruich mentioned how through the years, retired or honourary firefighters have assisted with the care and maintenance of the ’53 pumper, with Lannin mentioning how his father Jack Lannin and Harold Merkley had shown them how to pump water by using either a fire hydrant or the onboard water.
During the interview, Gruich opened a file folder and displayed the original instruction manual which came with the ’53 pumper and commented how it would be wonderful to have the invoice which the council would have received when it was purchased. Lannin mentioned most of the pumper’s original items such as brass nozzles, fire extinguisher and aluminium ladder are still on the truck and an Ontario 1953 licence plate with 57M10 covering the heritage plate is a replica of the original plate.
Looking inside the cab, the seats were in immaculate condition, the stick shift denoting a standard transmission and an odometer reading of only 12,884 original miles for the historic vehicle. When asked about how many firefighters could travel in the pumper, Lannin explained how there would have been two in cab and four holding onto the handrails at the back of the truck, before noting in 2021 firefighters travel inside truck cabs only.
The ’53 pumper truck no longer assists its community in fighting fires but instead has become a welcome addition to local car shows, parades, and fire station open houses to showcase this part of the history of firefighting in the community. On Christmas Eve 2020, the ’53 pumper truck left its home at the Chesterville fire station to drive Santa and Mrs. Claus throughout Chesterville.
There is a sense of awe and excitement looking at the vehicle, the first self-contained pumper truck for Chesterville, gleaming in the light and providing a peek into our firefighting history. A special note of thanks must be provided to those firefighters, past, present and future, who continue to ensure this important part of our history is preserved for the future.