Alta Lake's first firefighters 

50 years on

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"...As part of a mutually agreed upon condition for attendance on Thursday nights was a distinctly Alta Lake rule. Fire practice could only begin after the National Hockey League game on CBC Radio was over! It seems the Fire Chief was an ardent hockey fan and never missed a radio broadcast of a Maple Leafs or Habs game. The community's safety had to play second fiddle to the national game ...Fire practice would just have to wait until the final buzzer sounded," she recalled.

A substantial first step was the construction of a firefighting/first aid supply shelter on the West Side. Built by Dan Noyes and others in 1963, the eight-foot by eight-foot "shelter" was not really a fire hall at all. Another decade would pass before such a glamorous structure would be built at Mons or an actual fire truck obtained. That first fire department structure was best described, and pictures show, the building being, "...not much more than a shed."

The shelter was built on the grounds of Dick and Kelly Fairhurst's Cypress Lodge (The old Whistler Hostel site). An equipment procurement posse took hold and soon every one began to pitch in to outfit the cache with rudimentary tools. These first appliances included axes, mattocks, water shut-offs, shovels, adaptors, backboards, hoses with repair kits, stretchers, first aid kits and a special "Indian Backpack" — a simple five-gallon water can with spray nozzle attached (still in use today!).

The first major purchase was a portable, "Wajax water pump" and 400 feet of 1 ½ inch firefighting hose. The pump had to be shifted along the lakeshore to the fire location where needed as the arrival of fire hydrants and standpipes were still years away.

The volunteers saw benefit in acquiring equipment that was compatible with the early forest service's gear. Hoses, nozzles and couplings collected were interchangeable with forestry firefighting equipment and put into action to control the many summer bush fires.

Reflecting back on those heady days, Petersen reminisced that in the case of a fire emergency, "...volunteers would make their way down to water's edge, prime the pumps motor, pull the cord and hope like hell the engine would fire up!"

At the time, tragically, but now ironically, the Wajax pump and firefighting volunteers were first called into serious action for a house fire at Petersen's (and her teacher/girlfriend's) cabin, Witsend, in November of 1965. It was a complete loss!

Ever the organizer, Petersen and the Rate Payers Association solicited the princely sum of $15 annually from each property owner for the fire department equipment fund to raise money to finance the effort.

In 1966, the Garabaldi Lift Company had opened Whistler Mountain and broken ground on its Olympic dreams. On that "far side" of Alta Lake, the first ski trails were blazed, chairlifts installed and construction continuing to add to the needed infrastructure. With this activity and the increased construction at Alta Vista, Creekside and the Highlands, the West Side soon became Alta Lake's poor cousin.

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