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High school students help to bring old tradition to new fire hall

Duchess Park grade 12 students Gabriella Vis (foreground) and Brenna Harasym do a few touch-ups on the hose tower wall at the City of Prince George’s new Fire Hall #1 on Massey Drive. The Art Portfolio 12 students were part of the team of 11 local students who worked on the Fire Hall #1 project. City of Prince George photo

Few civic structures have witnessed as much history as the old, recently decommissioned Fire Hall #1 in downtown Prince George. In fact, generations of firefighters literally left their mark on the building. For more than 50 years, new firefighters would climb the steps to the top of the brick and mortar hose tower (where fire hoses are hung to dry) on the day they passed probation to write their names and probation year in chalk upon the tower wall.

Deputy Chief Cliff Warner of Prince George Fire Rescue points at his name and the date he passed his probation, which were recently added to the hose tower wall in City’s new Fire Hall #1 on Massey Drive. City of Prince George photo

So what can a fire department do with such a time-tested tradition when the time comes to move to a new hall? Prince George Fire Rescue and students from Duchess Park Secondary decided to bring this rite of passage, and every single one of the names written in the old tower (estimated at more than 250) to the City of Prince George’s new Fire Hall #1, which went into operation last month on Massey Drive.  

“Our crews were extremely excited to move into the new, modern fire hall, but it was also a little sad to leave a few of the intangible parts of the old hall behind, particularly such a long-running tradition,” said Deputy Fire Chief Cliff Warner, in a news release. “We wanted to preserve some of the rich history and customs that began in the old building, so we reached out to the School District to see if teachers and students from nearby Duchess Park might work with us to bring the names and the tradition along with us as we moved to the new hall.”

The partnership led to an initiative involving the transcription all of the names written in the old hose tower, as well as the addition of every single fire rescue member who has served Prince George going back to Fire Chief Harold Dornbierer in the early 1950s. This addition increased the number of names to over 300.

“While there has been an active fire rescue service in Prince George for over 100 years,  we really only have reliable records of firefighting staff going back about 70 years to 1950,” said Warner.

Shortly after construction finished on the new fire hall, 11 students in the Grade 12 Art Portfolio class at Duchess Park began transcribing the names and graduation dates of hundreds of firefighters in black acrylic paint on the white walls of the hose tower in the new fire hall. The students wrote over 300 names and probation dates over the course of six, two-hour sessions.

The project presented the students with the opportunity to add to their art portfolios in a real world setting, while learning about social awareness and responsibility, and honouring the courageous work of fire rescue members who have served Prince George residents through the years. The school also says it is interested in participating in other similar collaborative learning opportunities with the city.

“Our School District 57 students proudly contributed to facilitating this transition, showing care and respect for our City of Prince George firefighters. This work is authentic and purposeful, and gives meaning to the course curriculum. As students transferred historical elements from the old fire hall to the new one, they developed a greater understanding of how art is an essential element of culture and personal identity,” said Jaime Rose, the students’ art teacher. “Through their work, the students also helped to ensure this new space felt welcoming and familiar to the staff members who had worked in the old building.”

As with the chalk signatures in the old hall, when each new member of Prince George fire rescue passes probation in the city’s new Fire Hall #1, they will add their names to the long list of their firefighting predecessors – as transcribed by the Grade 12 Art Portfolio students from Duchess Park.

“Prince George Fire Rescue would like to thank these students for helping to preserve this important piece of local firefighting history,” said Deputy Chief Warner, who recently presented the students with official letters of appreciation from the City and Fire Rescue. “Both active and retired fire rescue members have toured the new tower and all are incredibly impressed and touched with the work these students did to help us preserve this special Prince George firefighter’s ritual. Traditions like this really help to make the new fire hall into a home.”

The 11 students worked in six two-hour sessions to transcribe the roughly 250 names from the old fire hall to the hose tower wall of the new Fire Hall #1. As part of the project, the students also added the name and graduation date of every firefighter to serve in the Department going back to Fire Chief Harold Dornbierer in 1950. The final number of names added the wall of the new hall exceeded 300. City of Prince George photo

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