Almaguin fire departments benefiting from Firefighters Without Borders program

·5 min read

Fire departments in the Almaguin Highlands and surrounding regions have been big beneficiaries from the organization Firefighters Without Borders.

Based in Toronto, the non-government organization provides used firefighting equipment, including clothing, to fire crews in other countries and also to small fire departments in other parts of Canada.

Powassan Fire Chief Bill Cox says the organization sends surplus firefighting-related equipment and gear from larger fire stations to departments which otherwise couldn’t afford the equipment or don't have the means to budget for it.

Cox says his brother, Ken Cox, is a retired captain with the Brampton Fire Department and has been very involved with Firefighters Without Borders.

Cox says his brother has been a major champion of seeing some of the surplus equipment end up at the area fire stations.

Bill Cox says many of the Almaguin area fire departments don't have big budgets, so at times some equipment that would be useful to them was out of their reach.

When the brothers talked and Ken Cox asked if there would be interest in some of the surplus equipment ending up in the Almaguin Highlands, Bill Cox was on board right away.

That discussion has resulted in a fairly steady flow of surplus equipment, gear and clothing making its way to Almaguin.

Depending on the nature of the equipment, the northern firefighters will make a trip to southern Ontario to gather up equipment the region can use or, if it's a small load, Ken Cox meets up with the firefighters in Orillia or Gravenhurst and hands over what he's collected from larger fire departments.

Ken Cox says what's been collected so far is nothing short of amazing and still has plenty of life.

“We've picked up air packs, extrication equipment, thermal imaging cameras, nozzles, hoses, ropes, lights, various tools and pumps,” he said.

Cox added clothing is also included in some of the collection drives.

“Believe it or not, some of the (items) arrive with the original tags,” Cox said.

“I don't know how the larger fire stations operate, but they seem to have an awful lot of surplus pants, shirts, ties, hats and boots. And it's all in very good repair, if not brand new.”

Cox said it's nice for the smaller departments to have access to the fire-related dress uniforms, but given the small nature of the communities and the fire departments, items like that rarely, if at all, get approved at budget time.

Cox says the clothing from the other departments arrive with their badges still on, leaving it up to the receiving fire department to replace it with their own insignia.

Bill Cox says the Almaguin region has been on the receiving end of surplus equipment going on two years.

He said one of the most valuable pieces of items the area secured was at the outset of COVID-19 last year.

“When COVID was in its early stages my brother was able to secure more than 4,000 N-95 masks at a time when they weren't available,” said Bill Cox.

“The masks were brand new in boxes and we were able to give them to the EMS crews, Eastholme, the North Bay Regional Health Centre and many doctors. Everyone was glad to get them when they did because they just weren't available yet at the time.”

Cox says the N-95 masks were distributed throughout Parry Sound District and Nipissing District.

Cox says there are times when the larger fire departments let go of their fire trucks.

Rather than sell the vehicles, the trucks find their way to a community which can also be overseas.

Cox says none of the used trucks have made their way to the area.

However, on a recent collection drive, the Powassan Fire Department picked up an 18 horsepower

Honda water pump.

Brand new, the water pump would cost about $5,000.

The fire chief says the unit will stay with the Powassan Fire Department and will be used to load water onto the department's fire trucks.

When a collection arrives, Cox says the call goes out to the area fire departments.

“We invite them over, they go through what we have and pick what they need,” he said.

At the moment, the Laurier Township Fire Department is also serving as a drop off point because it has plenty of space to store what's been collected.

As an unorganized municipality, the Laurier Fire Department falls under the control of the Fire Marshal's Office and Cox says it's part of the Northern Fire Protection Group.

Recently, the Laurier station has been reaching out to other stations in the north that can benefit from the Firefighters Without Borders program.

In addition to fire departments in the Almaguin area that have benefited from the program, Cox says stations in Martin River, Tilden Lake and Phelps have also picked up equipment.

Cox says the program is “a plus-plus for everybody” and it's boosted the morale of firefighters at the various volunteer departments because they get equipment they might otherwise not have access to.

“And it's all been at no cost to the municipalities,” he adds.

Cox says when a fire station receives equipment, gear or clothing, all that Firefighters Without Borders ask is that the recipients take a picture and send it to the organization.

On the web: https://www.firefighterswithoutborders.org

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget

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