Fire Alarm and Alerting System History


The Grand Falls Windsor Fire Department is the result of the two former towns of Grand Falls and Windsor amalgamating in 1991. The two fire departments were joined at this time to form one department. This is a history of what fire service was like in earlier years.


Former Grand Falls Fire Department

Many citizens can remember where they were when certain alarms of fire rang out in both communities. Sometimes these signals commenced long and vivid memories of fires burned into the minds of many who lived in both towns of Grand Falls and Windsor.


To receive the alarm of fire evolved from word of mouth, whistle and horn blowing to the electronic dispatching of the towns firefighters.


In 1909, alarms for fire were reported to the mill where the mill whistle was blown a series of short and long blasts to indicate where an emergency was taking place in the new paper town. Firefighters would then respond to the designated location and set to work.

A copy of the actual original codes remain.


This system was used for some time and eventually a fog horn type fire horn was installed on the back of Haig Road and Polygon Road in 1952. This location was determined at the time to be a strategic location high enough to be heard all through town as it was the center of town at that time. The horn was installed in a small shack on top of a tower, looking similar to early fire towers used in the forest service. This horn would be activated and give firefighters in the town an indication of where a fire was reported through a coded system of numbered blasts of this horn.

The town was divided into fire districts that was also indicated on a circular disk placed on the new rotary dial telephones. There were also street fire alarms installed in strategic locations in town that consisted of a telephone inside a box.


Fire Districts:

No. 12 Circular Road and Fourth Ave.

No. 13 Corner Bank road and Beaumont Ave

No 14 Salvation Army Barracks

No 15 Corner Beaumont Ave and Botwood Road

No 21 Corner High Street and Second Ave

No 22 Corner Beaumont Ave and Suvla Road

No 23 Cabot House

No 24 Corber Suvla Road and Botwood Road

No 25 Corner of Carmalite and Hill Road

No 31Corner Church Road and Station Road

No 32  Corner of Exploits Ave and Riverview Road

No 33  Junction Road opposite T. Howells House

No 34  Corner Junction and Botwood Roads

No 41 Crescent Ave

No 42  Grand Falls House Area

No 43  High School

No 51  Memorial Ave East

No 52  New Dairy

No 333    Warns of fire at mill. Mill Whistle will also sound.

All out 1 short blast


With the advent of a telephone system the fire horn eventually just rang our one signal to indicate a general fire alarm. This code was 5 blasts-pause 2 blasts repeated for a total of 3 times.

The fire horn was silenced and taken out of service in the late 1970’s , this is when the firemen all received radio pocket pagers. The horn was dismantled on afternoon Sept 9, 1980. Ending an era when the entire town received the alarm of fire at the same time the firefighters did. 


In addition to the fire horns and mill whistles , a telephone system was used as well. This telephone system was manned at the mill and eventually at the new fire station built in 1962 on Lincoln Road and Union Street.  This telephone system rang a continuous ring in a firefighter’s home, where when the reciever was lifted and listened too the operator would repeat the location of the fire into the phone system. The firehall operator watched a light board in the fire station that indicated a red light as each firefighters phone was lifted off the hook. This gave the operator confirmation that the message was being received. The fire horn would be activated to blow at the same time as the phone alarm was being transmitted. In many instances, firefighters out of their homes would respond to the station only to find out where the fire was when they arrived at the station. 



In 1976 the first pocket pagers were installed into the Grand Falls Fire Department which allowed each firefighter to carry a pager with them 24 hours a day. The fire alarm was now immediate to all firefighters and location and voice message were transmitted in an instant to all at the same time. This system eventually made the town fire horn obsolete with in a few short years. The telephone system was continued as a backup to the paging system until 1987, when the telephone system was discontinued. The present paging system is a redundant system that is backed up by another stand alone radio unit. Alarms for fire are each transmitted independently on both systems to ensure the alarms are received.


Former Windsor Fire Department


In  1948 a fire department was formed and in 1949 the department received its fire motorized piece of apparatus.  The fire truck was housed on Main Street in an Auto Body shop until 1951. A surplus air raid siren was procured and placed on this building and the fire department was in business. In 1951 the fire truck was moved to a new garage built on to the Town Hall and the siren was moved there. This building is located on the corner of Bond Street and Second Ave. This station was used until a new town hall and fire station was built a few hundred feet down Bond Street in 1967. The fire siren was located on top of the fire station on Bond Street. The alarm for fire in Windsor had similarities in that a fire siren was used to alert firefighters to an emergency. The siren was activated by volunteer home owners that manned and maintained the fire alarm system for their fellow citizens.

In addition to the siren, 40 plectron radio receivers were acquired in 1969 and installed in firefighters homes that would receive a radio alarm transmitted by the volunteer operators. This system was eventually expanded to accommodate radio pocket pagers and firefighters in this community received their alarms in 3 ways. The fire siren was discontinued when all Windsor firefighters were issued their own pager.


In the early days of firefighting in Windsor, the Wheeler Family manned the fire phone and alarm system right up to 1984. Then moved over to the Williams family who did the task until it was discontinued. The fire phone was installed in their private home where it was their duty to ensure it was answered 24 hours a day. A daunting task that was accepted by these community minded citizens.

The family system was in place right up just prior the amalgamation of 1991 when the fire dispatch was transferred to the full time dispatchers at the Grand Falls Fire Station.  This eventually became the central dispatch for the new amalgamated town.


In November of 1993, the two fire stations were closed and all equipment and operations moved to the newly renovated Municipal Service building on the Corner of Bayley Street and Harris Ave. This is the present location.


Fire Apparatus of both former towns and present


Firefighting in the early days of Grand Falls was accomplished by the A.N. D. Co  and the Grand Falls Fire Brigade as they were called were responsible for all the firefighting at the Mill and the town site. Domestic and separate fire water lines were installed throughout the town and water was pumped from the mill.


The Fire Equipment used in the early days bear no resemblance to what is used today. Trucks were none existent and the method of extinguishing fires involved hooking hose to a local hydrant. Consequently, many Fire boxes could be seen all around town near hydrants that housed fire hose, ladders, and assorted firefighting equipment.


A wheeled hand pump was used and pulled through town by firemen to assist in the water pumping operations.

In 1939, the first piece of motorized fire equipment was acquired. A 1939 Ford Hose Wagon was purchased this truck had no pumping capability until the second world war  when a fire pump was installed at the front this truck.


This truck remained in service in Grand Falls until 1976 when it was retired.

The Windsor Fire department was equipped with a 1949 Ford, midship mounted Pumper truck that carried a water tank and a 500 Gallon per minute pump.


A 1941 King Seagrave 1000gpm pumper truck was acquired by the AND Company in Grand Falls after the war from the American base in Argentia. This truck had a 12 cylinder gasoline engine and remained in service until the early 1960's when it was scrapped.


The 1939 and 1949 original fire trucks for both Grand Falls and Windsor remain as show pieces and are on pubic display at the current fire station. Both are still running and are used by the department as parade trucks.


In 1961, 2 new 625 gpm Chevrolet Lafrance pumpers were purchased by the A. N. D. Company, one for its Grand Falls Brigade and one for the Botwood operations. These trucks saw some of its first action at the Botwood Paper Shed fire in 1962. There the new Grand Falls truck pumped for 3 days straight and was shut down at the fire to have its first oil change. The Botwood pumper was lost at that fire when the wharf that it was parked on caught fire and collapsed. The Grand Falls truck was solid red in color but was painted yellow in 1974. The ‘Lafrance Pumper” as it was referred to, went on to serve the mill and the town until 1989 when it was replaced with a new pumper truck. This truck was then acquired by the community of Baytona and served for more years in that community.


In 1962, a new 1962 Dodge Lafrance pumper was put in service in the Windsor Fire Department.  A similar sister truck was purchased by Bishop’s Falls Fire Department and delivered in the same year. The Windsor truck was retired in 1997 and was acquired by the Leading Tickles Fire Department where it remains in service today.


In 1962 when the Town of Grand Falls was incorporated, the fire equipment and the responsibility for firefighting on the town site were turned over to the new municipal council who promptly set out to form the Grand Falls Fire Volunteer Department.

A new fire station was built at Lincoln Road and Union Street and housed the 2- 625 pumpers and 1939 unit.


In 1965 another Chevrolet 625 Thibault Pumper was bought for the town of Grand Falls. This pumper truck was painted red with a white top and served until 1997. This truck was then acquired by the Community of Stoneville and continues to serve.


A new town hall and fire station was constructed on Bond Street and opened in Canada’s Centennial year 1967.  This housed the Windsor fire equipment until 1993.


In 1974 the first 840 Gallon per minute pumper was purchased for the Town of Windsor. This truck was also painted the new Lime Yellow which was the trend in the 1970’s to paint fire apparatus.


 In 1981 the Grand Falls Fire Department took Delivery of a 100ft Aerial Ladder Truck. Equipped with a 840 gallon per minute pump on and International chassis and was yellow in color as well. This truck was painted Red and White in 2001 and remains in service today.  


1987 a 1987 International Metalfab 840 g.p.m. pumper with 500 gallon water tank was acquired to replace the 1961 Lafrance. This was the first diesel pumper truck placed in service in Grand Falls or Windsor.


1989 and 1990 both departments acquired cube type RescueVans.  


Grand Falls and Windsor amalgamated on January 1, 1991 officially creating the Grand Falls Windsor Fire Department.


In 1993, the old Grand Falls (Lincoln Road) and Windsor ( Bond Street) fire stations were closed and moved to the new municipal services building on Bayley Street.  Fire Dispatch was moved from the Lincoln Road station on October 25th,1993. All fire apparatus were moved under one roof in this large fire station on Tuesday, November 9th, 1993.



In 1997 the first pumper for the now amalgamated Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department was delivered, This pumper was another step up to the latest technology being one of the first trcks in the province to have a Class A foam system. This Metalfab 1050 gallon per minute pumper on an International chassis has a 1000 gallon water tank, a class A foam system and a enclosed 5 man crew cab. This pumper had near double the capacity of the older pumpers and essentially replaced two trucks the 1961 Dodge Lafrance and the 1965 Chevrolet Thibault. 


In 2007 , a new rescue pumper, another first in the province was delivered by Metalfab. This truck is a 1050 Rescue Pumper on a Spartan Chassis, carrying all hydraulic rescue tools, Class A and B foam system, and has an eight person cab to accomoadte a full rescue crew in one vehicle.


Birthplace of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Chiefs and Firefighters.


The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Chiefs was founded in the Grand Falls Fire Station by Fire Chief Charles Pitcher. On Friday May 15,1964 it was decided  that a provincial association could be sought. After a message was sent to all Fire Chiefs in the Province, the inaugural meeting was held June 26and 27th ,1964 in the Grand Falls Fire Hall. Fire Chiefs form Corner Brook, Placentia, Buchans, Badger, Grand Falls, A.N.D. Co, Windsor and Botwood attended. Telegrams of support were received from Lewispote, Burin, Carbonear, Pepperall, Happy Valley, Clarenville, and Holyrood.


On  June 27, 1964 it was a motion by Fire Chief Henry Conway of the A.N. D. Co Fire Brigade, seconded by Fire Chief Gordon Maidment of Windsor that the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Chiefs be formed.


Fire Chief Charles Pitcher of Grand Falls was elected as its first president and in its 45 years since its birth Grand Falls and Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Chief’s Charles Pitcher, Peter Cashin, and Vince Mackenzie have served as provincial presidents of this association.

This association is now some 6000 members strong representing over 200 fire departments province wide and has been the provincial voice for the fire service. It is now called the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services.



Fire Chiefs


A century of Fire Chiefs


1909-                           J.H. Gatley                  AND Co. Fire Brigade


1909-1915                John Lambert              AND Co. Fire Brigade


1915- 1943-     -           Mike Shallow              AND Co. Fire Brigade


1943-1947       -           Matthew J. Grace        AND Co. Fire Brigade


1947- 1958      -           Albert Crawley           AND Co. Fire Brigade


1946-1951       -           George Flood –           Windsor Fire Dept


1951-1970       -           Gordon Maidment      Windsor Fire Dept


1958- 1962      -           Henry Conway            AND Co. Fire Brigade


1962 -1965               Charles Pitcher            Grand Falls Fire Department


1970-1991       -           Gerald Brown             Windsor Fire Dept.


1965-1986       -           Peter Cashin                Grand Falls Fire Department


1986- 1987               Howard Miller            Grand Falls Fire Department


1987-1997       -           Bill Lynch       Grand Falls & Grand Falls Windsor Fire Department


1997- 2003      -           Lawrence McCarthy   Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department


2003- present              Vince Mackenzie     Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department




Fires in Grand Falls and Windsor.


The earliest recollection of a major fires in the town was the Mill block Fire in 1920’s. It was reported that this fire burned for three days.


In 1943 , a major fire destroyed a good portion of Main Street  in Windsor.


January 31, 1948- 5:15 am Baird’s Hotel destroyed by fire during a snow storm.


May 7, 1958- Fire in the Mill at the locomotive shop. The company’s track car completely destroyed and locomotive badly damaged.


July 7, 1958- Basha’s Tavern Botwood highway completely destroyed by fire.


1976, fire destroys the Alteen’s Jewelry store on high street.


1986- A major forest fire imperiled both towns of Grand Falls  and Windsor, The  may 16th to 18th fire kept firfighters busy for 3 days.


1992- Fire extensively damaged the Stardust Hotel on Main Street


1993- Fire destroys the TRA warehouse. This fire caused some 16 million dollars in damages.


1998- Fire destroys the Cohen’s furniture warehouse on Duggan Street. 4 million dollars reported lost.


2002- Fire destroyed the lab area of Abitibi Consolidated mill. This was the first time in reported history that a fire stopped production of the paper mill.


2009 - Fire destryed the former Booth High School on King Street