Ceremony honours 7 Fredericton firefighters who died in line of duty — but there are many more

·4 min read
William Anderson was 20 when he died in the line of duty in February, 1865. He will be honoured at a memorial ceremony in downtown Fredericton on Saturday. (David McKinley/Submitted - image credit)
William Anderson was 20 when he died in the line of duty in February, 1865. He will be honoured at a memorial ceremony in downtown Fredericton on Saturday. (David McKinley/Submitted - image credit)

On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, firefighters in Fredericton will also be mourning the loss of their own.

Since the mid-1800s, seven firefighters have died in the line of duty in Fredericton.

"That's the thing when you work in this business, you literally don't know what's going to happen," said David McKinley, assistant deputy chief of the Fredericton Fire Department.

The memorial will be held at the firefighter memorial site Saturday morning.

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

Helmets belonging to the seven firefighters will be on display and their names will be read aloud in front of the monument next to the Small Craft Aquatic Centre at the bottom of Smythe Street.

Who were they?

William Anderson was the first firefighter to die in the line of duty. The volunteer firefighter was just 20 when he died in 1865. A wall collapsed on top of him while he was responding to a call on York Street.

Another firefighters died in a truck rollover, and one perished in a flashover — that's when a room gets so hot, everything inside catches fire at the same time.

"Once a room flashes over, you've got seconds," McKinley said.

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

Two firefighters also died from heart attacks, which is common among fire crews.

"Your adrenaline pump is going in at 100 per cent. You're sucking as much air as possible … you're filthy and you're carrying weight that you never have to," he said.

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

McKinley used the example of a hose line filled with water, which can weigh about 300 pounds.

"It's very physically demanding work."

'Killed needlessly'

George Clynick, 46, was also a volunteer firefighter and veteran of the First World War. He died in 1927 after slipping under the open cab fire truck and was killed instantly.

McKinley said someone had pulled the fire alarm as a prank.

"He was killed needlessly."

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

The most recent firefighter death was in 2016.

Robert Berryman, who served as a firefighter for almost 35 years, died of occupational cancer. Close to 300 firefighters travelled to Fredericton for the funeral.

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

Occupational cancers increase

With the increase in occupational diseases, McKinley said many more names should have been added to the list.

"There's no doubt in my mind."

But many times, those deaths aren't investigated by the province.

McKinley recalls another instance in the 1930s, where a firefighter died from internal injuries because he didn't go to the hospital after responding to a call and being injured.

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

The fire department tries to mitigate those dangers with equipment, training and standard operation procedures.

There have also been many close calls, with firefighters suffering burns and having to jump out of windows to escape a fire.

David McKinley/Submitted
David McKinley/Submitted

"I literally don't know what's going to happen tonight and every firefighter knows that," McKinley said.

A tribute to New York City firefighters

The Fredericton Fire Department will also be paying homage to the 343 firefighters who died in the line of duty on Sept. 11. The ceremony is a tradition that started about 15 years ago.

The firefighter ceremonies are usually hosted with the Moncton and Saint John Fire Departments every year.

About 200 firefighters will typically join in a parade in honour of the lives lost. But because of COVID-19, Moncton and Saint John will not be taking part this year.

Saint John Fire Department
Saint John Fire Department

In Saint John, 13 firefighters have died in the line of duty.

In June, Capt. Karl Conrad died from bladder cancer, which is also considered a line of duty death because of chemical exposure. He was 58.

Moncton Fire Department/Facebook
Moncton Fire Department/Facebook

Ten firefighters died in the line of duty in Moncton.

The most recent death was George Butler, 62, who died from occupational cancer last week.

'A different world'

Allan MacNutt, historian and former firefighter with the Moncton Fire Department, said firefighters are facing different kinds of dangers from when he started in 1976.

"You don't know what you're exposed to," he said.

Maria José Burgos/CBC
Maria José Burgos/CBC

In his time, MacNutt said firefighters wore a plastic helmet, an old coat and a pair of rubber boats.

Now, they are more likely to respond to chemical fires, or have to attend to medical calls, where they can be exposed to diseases, including COVID-19.

"It's a different world now."

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