As a young boy about five or six years old, Reo Jerome slid down his first fire pole at the New Westminster hall. He whisked down the brass rod in seconds, wrapped safely in the arms of his dad, one of the city’s firefighters.
A few years later, he was old enough to make the slide solo – “every kid’s dream,” the now-Surrey fire captain said last week.
But it wasn’t until late last month, after nearly three decades as a Surrey firefighter and on the first day of operations at the city’s newest fire hall, that Jerome got to use the pole on the job.
“In my 29 years, I’ve never used a fire pole,” he said.
“It’s quicker… plus the tradition of having a fire pole is pretty cool.”
Jerome and firefighter Dave Baird were among many on hand at Hall 14, at 2016 176 St., Friday – one week later – to celebrate the state-of-the-art hall’s official opening.
City and department leaders lauded the $4-million facility as “the beginning of a new era” – one that will better meet the demands of South Surrey’s growing population and stand as an impressive example of what the city has to offer.
It “really gives the south end of Surrey just an amazing response capability,” said assistant fire Chief Joe Deluca, describing the hall as “almost our flagship.”
“Our response level will be fabulous.”
Hall 14 is Surrey’s 15th fully staffed hall, Deluca noted – triple the number that existed when he started his firefighting career 31 years ago.
Fire Chief Len Garis said the hall will be “a real icon” for Surrey, as the first civic building visitors from the U.S. will see. That first glimpse will include artwork by Derek Rowe that graces the exterior west wall and features firefighter Nancy Innes and Capt. Terry Hunt, along with Halls Prairie Elementary students Darrin Thoring, Tamara Marlikowski, Eva Corrigan and Lexi Olma.
In addition to art, the hall’s design incorporates wood, water, rock and glass. Complete with various sustainable features such as a solar hot-water system and reduced-flow water fixtures – as well as an in-ground truck washing system and radial-heat floors in the truck bay – the facility is a far cry from what volunteers who manned the Hazelmere Valley’s first fire hall 65 years ago had.
“When I started, we didn’t have anything,” said Jess Smith, one of the valley’s first volunteer firefighters.
Smith, who attended Friday’s opening with his wife, Marg, and who spent 37 years answering calls for assistance before retiring in 1985, said he was “proud to be here.” Marg said memories abound of her husband being called to duty in the middle of the night – awakenings she admitted she doesn’t miss.
Jerome and Baird, whose wife Innes is a firefighter at Hall 17, both lauded the decision to man the hall by a career crew. Like the brass pole, it will shave precious time off of the firefighters’ response, they said, noting a fire can double in size in as little as 30 seconds.
The ability to respond quicker also means the crew can cover a broader area, and will now take the lead in areas previously under the watch of Hall 17 and Hall 13 crews. Seventeen paid-on-call firefighters will support the four-man engine.
Project co-ordinator Bud Livesey, who retired from the Surrey Fire Service last year, said the new hall is something to be proud of.
“We know it will serve the community well.”