Published in the Montreal Gazette on June 8, 2013

An editorial in the Montreal Star on January 17, 1907, lamented the archaic equipment in the possession of the city’s fire department. Entitled “The Fire Protection Problem”, the perspective went on to criticize other aspects of the fire fighting situation in Montreal, including the dangers posed by overhead wires and buildings not up to code!

Now, over a century later, most of the overhead wires are gone, structures are hopefully, more often than not, ‘up to code’, and, as for the department’s gear, you can check that out for yourself next Saturday at the annual parade of vehicles!

The colourful event is taking place in conjunction with yearlong celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Montreal’s Fire Department. The pinnacle of these festivities occurs next weekend, Le Grand Weekend, when several significant happenings take place.

On Friday, there will be an Open House from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. at the training centre for firemen at 6700 Notre Dame East. The following day the parade of the some of the antique fire trucks in the department’s possession will start at 10:00 A.M. at Jeanne Mance Park, then heading east along Mount Royal. A Family Day gathering at 1:00 P.M. in Lafontaine Park will follow this. Finally, on Father’s Day, there will be a commemorative service at 11:00 A.M. at St. Joseph’s Oratory for those many brave firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.

All events are open to the public. Further information can be obtained from the website of Service de Sécurité Incendie de Montréal(SIM): www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/sim

The city’s fire department also frequently acknowledges the work of many dedicated volunteers who consistently assist the firemen (and today, firewomen) in carrying out their often-dangerous duties. Helping out takes many forms, not the least of which is manning the canteen truck that serves cold or hot drinks to the firefighters.

In that regard, one individual is especially noteworthy. His name is Serge Dandurand.

Serge Dandurand always wanted to be a fireman. When a child, he and his family lived on the Plateau near Fire Station 16 and, like many boys, the youngster found himself often at the station hanging around and lending a hand.

When he finally reached the age requirement to become a firefighter, there was just one problem – he wasn’t tall enough. (This restriction no longer exists.)

As Dandurand came from a family where there were already many full-fledged firefighters, he was accepted in 1962 into a volunteer organization known as the ‘Montreal Auxiliary Firemen’.

Within a short period of time, the young recruit was aiding at the many conflagrations transpiring in the city, including some of the big ones – the Woodhouse store fire of 1963 that claimed the lives of three firemen, the infamous 1972 Blue Bird Bar blaze that killed 37, and the May 1987 fatal fire at the Unitarian Church on Sherbrooke Street, to mention just a few.

While Dandurand, 72, made his career at Canadair-Bombardier, he spent almost as much time, if not more, supporting the Montreal Auxiliary Firemen. That simple fact was recognized last December when Dandurand was awarded, at a special ceremony at Collège Regina Assumpta, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal from Pierre Duchesne, the Lieutenant – Governor of Quebec.

Today, Serge Dandurand spends much of his time volunteering, along with his best friend Barry Adams, 58, as curator of the Firemen’s Museum at 5100 Boulevard St. Laurent. Both been collectively responsible for museum acquisitions for some time now and, between them, they have put together a remarkable collection of firefighting memorabilia.

Montrealers are very fortunate to have two individuals so dedicated to the preservation of one precious feature of this city’s vibrant history.

Do drop by to see them. Their collection alone is well worth the visit.

For more information visit the museum’s website at: www.museedespompiers.com or call 514-872-3757. Open Sundays from 1:30 – 4:00.

(below, Serge Dandurand and Barry Adams at the Firemen’s Museum)

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– a Dario Ayala photo / Montreal Gazette

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