Regional Niagara Fire Buffs Association History

A Brief History

In October, 1974 St. Catharines, Ontario Fire Captain and OFBA member Doug Slack published the first issue of the “Booster Line” or, as the Masthead read, “Notes about the Niagara Chapter of the OFBA”. Prior to this those members of the OFBA who lived in the Niagara Region had been meeting regularly to discuss what was happening within the region and to share stories and photos of apparatus. With the newsletter being published on a regular basis this was the beginning of what would eventually be the formation of another buff club in Southern Ontario. Meetings began to be held on a regular schedule from September through June and trips were organized to visit fire departments within the region and across the border into the Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester, NY areas. These club organized trips continued until the demise of the club in 2012.

At the February, 1976 meeting of the group first steps were taken to form an official buff club with John Kennedy taking on the interim duties of President and Bob Rupert those of Secretary while committees  were to be formed at the next meeting to look at membership, dues structure, etc. Fifteen people met at Welland’s King St. fire hall on March 22, 1976 where the club officially came in to existence, to be known as the Regional Niagara Fire Buffs Association with John being confirmed as President and Bob as Secretary-Treasurer. Membership dues were set at $5. per year which included the subscription to the Booster Line.  Non-member subscriptions, of which there were many, remained at $3. per year. Membership in the club was limited to 30 people and prospective members had to be of good character and have two references from fellow buffs or members of the emergency services.

Doug stepped down from editing and publishing the Booster Line in December, 1982 after 8 years and the task was taken over by John Dybus who stepped down at the end of 1983.  Bob Rupert assumed the position of editor beginning with the January, 1984 issue and held the position until December of 2011, a span of 28 years, but could not have accomplished what he did without the help and cooperation of a number of members and their wives who faithfully created the masters and ran off copies on the Gestetner machine then collated and mailed out the copies in the early days, then, after computerization of the editing process, stuffed envelopes and did the mailing in the later years.  The Booster Line eventually came to report on fires and fire department activities across the province and western New York in addition to local (Niagara) news. Editing of the newsletter was then assumed by Bill Middleton who carried on until the end of publication in November of 2012.

In one of the most important decisions ever made by the RNFBA a committee was struck at the January, 1987 meeting to look into providing a canteen service for the St. Catharines Fire Department. However, negotiations with the department failed to come to an agreement and the offer was withdrawn. After many discussions, in June of 1989 the RNFBA created a Fire Department Support Unit and signed an agreement with the town of Niagara on the Lake Fire Service to provide a canteen service for its firefighters.  This initiative was spearheaded by Dave Battersby and supported by then Niagara on the Lake Fire Chief Gerry Whittaker.  The unit answered its first call on July 16 of that year.

Subsequently the RNFBA Fire Support Unit signed agreements with all 12 fire services in the Niagara Region plus the Niagara Regional Police and the Region of Niagara Community Services as follows:  1989 – Niagara on the Lake and Lincoln;  1991 – St. Catharines and Niagara Falls;  1992 – Thorold;  1993 – Pelham;  1994 – Grimsby and Port Colborne;  1996 – Welland;  2000 – Fort Erie;  2001 – Wainfleet; 2006 – West Lincoln;  2008 – Niagara Regional Police; 2009 – Niagara Region Community Services.

In September, 1990 the club was incorporated with the Province of Ontario resulting in a name change to: Regional Niagara Fire Buff Associates and, on December 1, members of the Support Unit travelled to Mississauga, Ontario to take delivery of our first Support Unit vehicle after purchasing it from the Mississauga Firefighters Association and the Lakeshore Fire Buffs. The 1968 GMC Stepvan, a former delivery truck with the Toronto Star newspaper had its’ last run with the Lakeshore Buffs on November 30 to assist Brampton crews at a fatal  explosion in a donut shop.  After familiarization with the vehicle by the members of the Support Unit it had its’ first run on January 18, 1991 to assist Niagara on the Lake crews at a 2 alarm house fire on Simcoe St in the old town.  That vehicle answered 68 calls before being replaced in 1994. Initially, the 15 members of the Support Unit were dispatched by St. Catharines Alarm operators on a pyramid call basis; i.e. the alarm operator called one person who called 2 people who then called 2 each and so on.  In the early 2000’s 15 used Motorola pagers were donated to the club and re-programmed by the Alarm Technician at St. Catharines Fire which meant that all members received a voice message at the same time.

In early 1994 the RNFBA was incorporated as a non-profit organization allowing it to raise monies as a charity for the Support Unit and to issue tax receipts for donations. The Units’ next vehicle, a 1975 GMC step van, the former Pelham Rescue 1, went to its first call on September 20, 1994 and answered 380 calls for assistance before being replaced by a former Tillsonburg transit bus in 2004.  The 1998 Bluebird was converted by PK Van Bodies of Oshawa and was equipped with a Cummins diesel; Allison auto trans; 25 KW Onan PTO driven generator; 3000 watt Wilburt nightscan light tower; Whelen lighting package; backup camera; side awning; rear serving window; seating for 7; full size fridge, stove & microwave; stainless steel counters; hot & cold water with 50 gal. tank and Bunn coffee maker.  The rig responded to its first call on October 5, 2004.  At emergency scenes the SU was equipped to serve coffee, hot chocolate, pop, bottled water, granola bars, cookies and when requested could put on a full meal, such as hot dogs, soup, their famous chili, sandwiches or pizzas.

It was also around this time that the Support Unit changed its’ name to the Regional Niagara Fire Services Support Unit or FSSU.

In the fall of 2009 the FSSU put a second vehicle in service.  The 1999 Chevy Astro Van (ex Grimsby Car 3) was intended to respond ahead of the FSSU as a ‘quick response’ vehicle and carried basic items such as water, pop, juice and snacks (granola bars). It could also respond on its own to a second incident when necessary.

In the summer of 2010, members of the FSSU were provided training in CPR and the use of Automated External Defibrillators after which an AED was provided by the Mikey Network and placed in service with FSU 1. A second AED was provided by the Mikey Network in 2011 and carried on FSU 2. After some lengthy negotiations the FSSU came to an agreement in the spring of 2011 whereby the  fire services and other agencies that the FSSU supported would assume the costs of leasing premises at 514 Queenston St., St. Catharines to house the vehicles of the FSSU.  The arrangement ended over 20 years of the FSSU being housed in one of the Niagara on the Lake Fire Stations since its inception in1989.

In November, 2012 the last issue of the Booster Line was published and mailed to members and subscribers with the editor noting that he had been ordered by the newly elected Board of Directors to cease publication. Finances were intimated to be in dire circumstances and within a few weeks the organization ceased to exist, ending 38 years of organized fire buffing and 24 years of providing canteen and rehab services to the fire, police and community services in the Niagara Region. Over those 24 years the FSSU had responded to 843 calls for assistance.

FSSU 1 – 1998 Bluebird Bus