New digs boost morale at Mohawk Fire & Rescue

Mohawk Fire & Rescue

MUTUAL AID: Tydendinaga Township Fire Department and Mohawk Fire & Rescue have a mutual aid agreement, which means both departments receive calls at the same time.

CALLS TO DATE: 107 as of Oct. 26.

BIG CALL: The First Nations Technical Institute airport hangar fire earlier this year was one of the biggest in department history. “That was a one of those career fires. Most guys will never see something that big burning again, all at once like that.” -- Mohawk Fire & Rescue Chief Scott Maracle

OVERHEARD: “At one time, there was a list of 12 things that fire departments respond to, and #12 was any other dirty job that nobody else wants to do.” – Fire Chief Scott Maracle

CAT IN TREE: “We've had a couple of those and you have to say to people ‘Have you ever seen a dead cat in a tree? They’re going to come down. They're not stuck.’ ” – Fire Chief Scott Maracle.

NEW DANGERS: Modern furniture, made with synthetics, are considered the biggest threat in a house fire today. “When I started 40 years ago, you had seven minutes to get out of your house if it was on fire. Now they're talking two because of synthetics and everything else. If your smoke alarm doesn't work, you're in real trouble.” – Fire Chief Scott Maracle

NEW WHEELS: Mohawk Fire & Rescue will be getting two new trucks by spring/summer 2023.

TRAINING: New firefighters train between six months and a year before being dispatched to an emergency.

LOCATION: 39 Meadow Dr.

TYENDINAGA MOHAWK TERRITORY – There isn’t much history when it relates to Mohawk Fire & Rescue that doesn’t involve its current and longtime chief, Scott Maracle.

That’s because the towering and handsome boss with a booming yet friendly voice joined the force approximately five years after it came into existence.

“I want to say (the department) started in the early ’70s, but it was 1976 when they actually had enough equipment that they were able to join the Hastings and Prince Edward County’s Mutual Aid Association,” Maracle said of the department’s roots.

He himself came aboard at the tender age of just 16 at the behest of his father.

“I started with this fire department in September of 1981,” he said proudly. “My dad was a member of the department and the fire chief at the time (told me to) come and hang out and get the hang of things and see what it's all about.”

Some 41 years, promotions, countless rescues, a fleet or two of fire trucks and a brand spanking new, state-of-the-art fire department later and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Maracle is the heart and soul of the department.

Perched on a concrete pad in front of the new department, which opened on Meadow Drive in May, sits the department’s inaugural fire truck, a testament to a long, proud and storied history.

“I think it's a 1953,” Maracle said of the rusted out antique. “That was the first truck (the department) got. (Then Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte) Chief Earl Hill and one of the councillors went and picked it up. It was surplus out of the military. When I started in ’81, (the department) had just gotten the 1980 King-Seagrave pumper.”

The antique continues to draw attention and questions.

“That little baby's been pushed around and sat around and people wanted to buy it but I said no, we’ll keep it,” Maracle said with a smile as he gazed out the window of his office at the storied machine.

For decades, the department, which boasts 26 volunteers and the chief, was located beside the Tyendinaga Community Centre on York Road, where two form garages were transformed into the longtime home for Mohawk Fire & Rescue. Though not without its challenges, Maracle said, the department made do with aging equipment and infrastructure.

“Prior to (moving to York Road), (the department) bought fire protection, which a lot of smaller places still do,” Maracle said. “So Deseronto and Thurlow Township at the time, we bought fire protection from them.”

A massive blaze at the former council house exposed the need for the community to have its own service, Maracle said.

“When the old council house burnt in 1971,” he said, “I think that's when they really started to get serious about (having) our own setup.”

Change has been constant over the last four decades, Maracle said, both in terms of the people themselves and in the population.

“All our services have been upgraded (over time),” he said. “(It used to be just) two or three people who worked for the band. Now we've got hundreds of employees and that's just MBQ itself. There are probably three times the houses there were here when we started. Obviously the businesses are tenfold, so that brings in all the transient traffic. The growth here has been just phenomenal.”

The Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States changed not only attitudes toward firefighters, but it changed how first responders dealt with blazes in high rises.

“The whole world got its eyes opened on on 9/11,” Maracle said, adding he watched the devastation unfold on TV at the arena in Deseronto with his father-in-law. “The help that was offered to New York City from firefighters around the world was amazing. We’ll all come and help. We'll do whatever you need.”

Post-9/11, firefighters put increased emphasis on training to deal with fires in high-rise buildings.

“In Belleville, they train specifically for something in a high rise,” Maracle said. “You have to. It is unique. The Mohawk department currently doesn’t train for high-rise fires. “We don't do it because obviously we don't have any high rises,” he said, adding that following a recent call to Belleville, it was suggested that some of the Mohawk F&R crew should be trained to deal with high rise fires. “What if we're tied up at a big fire and all our guys are fighting fire and they get a high rise call,” the chief asked.

Now nearly six months into adjusting to their new home, Maracle admitted it was a very long time coming for the department.

“I started to work for the fire department as a fire prevention (officer) in 1991,” he said. “And it was probably ’92 or ’93 when (the band) started talking about a new building for the fire department. So it took from 1990-something to 2022 to get something.”

It wasn’t for lack of effort or desire, Maracle added.

“We had one drawn up probably 16 or 17 years ago and at that time it (would have cost) $1.4 million or something, but that was way too much money,” he said. “It would have actually been bigger than what we have now, but that was too much money, and there was no money from the (federal government). Still isn't. We've never gotten any money from the federal government to help us with this. This is all the band.”

Three decades and some $4 million later and the Mohawk department has a beautiful new fire station, which was designed to allow it to be expanded in the future should the need arise.

“Night and day,” Maracle said with a chuckle when asked about the differences. “It's just unbelievable. We still don't know what to do with all of our stuff.”

Besides the state-of-the art building itself, training is able to be done inside on site, all emergency vehicles are on site, an indoor reservoir means the trucks can be filled inside during cold months and there’s more room.

So. Much. More. Room.

“For guys to be getting gear on and getting loaded up, there's room here to do that without interference,” Maracle said. “The other building was so tight you couldn't open all the cabinet doors at the same time or you couldn't walk through. There’s just so much room.”

And the chief has noted the response times have improved, an important feature when you’re dealing with upward of 125 calls a year and second and minutes matter.

“We're more central here,” Maracle said. “Either way we have to go, we're kind of more central to be able to split up and go which way we have to go if we need to. So that's worked out better. It seems that the guys are coming in all at the same time to get rolling and that makes it better when all your vehicles are going out at the same time as opposed to one truck and two guys being stuck someplace waiting for other guys to show.”

Valuable moments, indeed.

“The other building we seemed to be very spotty on response,” Maracle said.

Morale is also noticeably improved thanks to the new digs, the chief noted.

“The guys are just tickled pink to come here,” he said. “They just can't wait to get here. The more they come, the better. I've told them if you want to wash your car, pull your car inside, wash your car then you’ve got guys on site all the time. They're here, they're ready to roll.”

Firefighting remains the last largely volunteer-based job among first responders, something that isn’t lost on the chief.

“Volunteers are a big part,” Maracle said. “Police are funded. Ambulances funded. Fire is not funded. (Our) volunteers all have other jobs. My guys are all gone to work today. If we had a call right now, we could be very limited on the people we get to respond.”

The Chief paid tribute to those who put their lives on the line on a volunteer basis.

“They train the same as every other firefighter and do the same job as every other firefighter, so hats off to volunteers because without them, the whole country would be in bad shape.”

Jan Murphy is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Belleville Intelligencer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative, Belleville Intelligencer