The Oyama Fire Department was the first organized fire department in what is now Lake Country. A fire at Appleton’s General store, located next to the Oyama Post Office and Thomson’s Garage demonstrated the need for fire suppression in the community. That fire was fought with buckets.
An Improvement District was established consisting of the area served by the Oyama and Wood Lake Irrigation districts. Gaining improvement district status allowed the community to raise funds to purchase fire-fighting equipment. Government subsidy money also became available; Oyama received a Centennial project grant to assist in building the Fire Hall. It was completed in 1958 using mostly volunteer labour. The fire hall was built on Canadian National Railway (CNR) property, on land leased to the Vernon Fruit Union (VFU). When the VFU no longer held the lease on the CNR property, the Fire Hall location became problematic. So the United Church property was purchased and a new Hall was built there, that still serves the community.
Nearly everyone’s home used wood-fired appliances for heating and cooking in those days, causing chimney fires. Grass fires were the other main fires attended by the Fire Department. However, the area between the Community Hall and Oyama School was of greatest concern for the Fire Department because that was where Oyama’s main public buildings and packinghouses stood. The fire department built a railroad crossing at the site of the old railway station and then constructed a stub road between the railroad and Wood Lake in order to gain access to the lake as a source of water. That point of access was sufficient to fight fires in the vicinity of the Community Hall, but not the area around the school, so an access road was constructed along the shore as far as the BC Shippers Packinghouse.
The first fire truck was a pump truck built in the 1930s, purchased from the City of Kelowna. It carried 300 gallons of water, hoses, and ladders. The pump on the fire truck was side-mounted and that was shown to be a problem when water was accessed from Wood Lake. With a front mounted pump; we could access water in quite a few more locations. Consequently a new front-mounted pump truck was ordered and the old truck was sold to the town of Chetwynd, BC. I am sure that some of the newer members of the fire department wonder whatever possessed the Oyama Fire Department to purchase a front-mounted pump.
Water was initially only available for fire fighting during the irrigation season so a variety of fittings and wrenches were carried on the truck to access to irrigation systems if needed. It wasn’t until the mid 1960s that the community, under the Federal and Provincial government’s ARDA programs, was able to install water systems that provided water under pressure year round. The two new water systems distributed domestic water throughout the community and, with the installation of hydrants, fire protection became available to the entire community.
An air raid siren that had been installed on the roof of the VFU during WW II was modified to activate by telephone in case of a fire. This loud alarm summoned firemen from the entire community. It was the same siren that was heard throughout the community every lunch hour and at five o’clock when it sounded to dismiss VFU workers.
During my twenty-three3 years as a volunteer, the two most memorable and costly fires involved the SunRype and VFU plants at Winfield. The Oyama Fire Department was called to assist in both of those fires. The SunRype plant was located behind the Woodsdale Packinghouse on Woodsdale Road, and was a total loss, but we were able to save the packinghouse with minimal damage. The Winfield plant was a total loss.3
Editor’s Note: The Fire Hall (a Centenary project) was officially opened by Oyama May Queen Sandra Thomson (Mrs. David Harder) in 1958.
See also LCMA blog post Queen of the May.
1 Photograph contributed by Ron Taylor.
2 Photograph contributed by Ron Taylor. The Oyama Fire Department members in this photo are from Left to Right: Bernie Gatzke, Harold Butterworth, Paul Pipke (up top), Fred Hayward, Doug Elliot, Harry Byatt, Derek Eyles, Mac Dewar, Ira Thomson. This photo was taken at the SunRype plant that was located behind the VFU Woodsdale packing house. Not certain when the SunRype plant burned down; about 1960 I think.
3 Bernie Gatkze, (Oyama) Lake Country, BC, March 2017.
4 Photo contributed by Duane Thomson.