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The ferry “Surrey”– River front fire engine

July 9, 2011

Trial by fire 1.   

Ackerman says "Go."

Toward the middle of March 1891, the new Fraser River ferry Surrey was still in the hands of contractors, undergoing finishing work and testing. 

The Surrey was to face a stiffer test one late one night when a fire was spotted on the south shore, near to Punch’s Hotel at Brownsville–a test of protocol as much as ability.

The Surrey could be depended to respond. After some debate as to cost, the vessel had been sensibly equipped with a turret nozzle and hydrants operated by her on-board steam pump. She could draw water from the river and supply it with force, and in the words of an admiring commentator, she “was practically a river front fire engine.”

Ferry steamer Surrey  
Steamer Surrey -  Fraser River ferry and fire-boat  


Firemen scrambled down to the ferry dock and it was expected the Surrey would go over directly. However, Captain James Card was operating the ferry for the contractors Reid and Currie and could not leave without a say-so.  In the meantime she readied her fire apparatus while agitated lookers-on urged them to get moving.

"While an animated discussion was going on a man approached the Captain and informed him there was a large quantity of dynamite stored at Brownsville landing, and this information confirmed him in his decision not to leave on his own responsibility"

After many anxious minutes Capt Card "went up town" and called Mr Reid, who gave his sanction, providing the Captain took great caution. 
Returning to his vessel the Captain met Alderman WJ Walker and requested permission from the City,  however,

"Ald. Walker declined taking any such responsibility on his shoulders, as the fire was not within the city limits. Capt Card next asked Chief Ackerman, and the Chief said ‘go,’ and a minute later the ‘Surrey’ was steaming for Brownsville. On arriving there the Chief got his men instantly to work, and in a few minutes the fire was completely extinguished."

This was surely the first suppression of fire by a fire-boat in British Columbia and likely the first action by an official fire-brigade in Surrey.

Never able to resist the cinematic effects of a blaze and its effect on a crowd, and giving scant attention to the potential for injury or loss,  the newspaper reported—

"From Westminster the fire look very grand, and the foggy condition of the atmosphere added considerably to the weirdness. From the upper portion of the city the best view was obtained, and hundreds of people remained out in the pelting rain for some time viewing the flames as they flashed up into the night and fitfully illuminated the picturesque surroundings."

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