The History of Vancouver Fire Rescue Services

On May 28th, 1886 a group of Vancouver's citizens met to form a fire brigade for the new city. There was no money available for equipment but the Volunteer Hose Company No. 1 elected its leaders and was prepared to fight fires with any available buckets, axes, shovels and ladders. A week after the Great Fire of 1886 that wiped out the city, the first fire engine was ordered from Ontario. When it arrived in August, 1886, the volunteers felt that they could now handle any fire situation. A second engine arrived in 1888 and the growing city had three fire halls before the turn of the century. In 1907, Fire Chief J.H. Carlisle began to motorize the department when he purchased the very first automobile fire apparatus built by the Seagrave Company of Columbus, Ohio. By 1911, a committee of London men rated the Vancouver Fire Department third in the world behind London and Leipzig, Germany, "as regards to equipment and efficiency." 

With this new-found fame, motorization continued and by the summer of 1917, the horses were retired and the city had fifteen motorized fire halls. Vancouver became the first city in Canada to be so equipped and was many years ahead of other larger North American cities.

On January 1, 1929, the nearby municipalities of South Vancouver and Point Grey amalgamated with the city increasing the size of the fire

department by six fire halls and almost 100 men. Then the depression years and the war years followed. By the end of the war most of the fire apparatus were old, unsafe and in need of replacement with some of them over thirty-five years old. In the next fifteen years, over twenty-five new, modern apparatus were purchased and through the 1960's and 1970's many more were replaced.

Several large loss-of-life fires in the seventies in hotels and apartment buildings made it necessary to upgrade these premises and install sprinkler systems and fire/smoke detectors. This program resulted in a dramatic drop in fire deaths. The early 1970's saw the arrival of the "Super Pumps," four powerful engines with large 1,500 gpm (gallon-per-minute) capacities, the department's first diesel-equipped engines. Soon after, the city took delivery of its first Calavar Firebird 125, a 125-ft. aerial platform, the first such platform in Canada, with a ten to twelve story reach.

Replacement of many of the old horse-drawn era fire halls was begun with nine being replaced and new fire apparatus' are now replaced on a regular cycle. In 1995, the University Fire Department was added to the city increasing the size and manning of the department and the

Vancouver Fire Department became known as the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, to better show the scope of its service to the public today.