Galt Museum exhibit illuminates Lethbridge Fire and EMS history


 There is a lot more to fighting fires than “putting the wet stuff on the red stuff,” according to Lethbridge fire department deputy chief Jesse Kurtz.Dana Terry plays  the Wii firefighter game which is part of We Are Here To Serve: Fire and EMS. Photo by Richard Amery
“That’s a saying we have in the fire department. It means putting water on fire. But putting out fires is so much more complicated than that,” said Kurtz, noting that is what he hopes Galt Museum patrons will take away from the brand new exhibit “ We Are Here to Serve: Fire & EMS, which runs  Feb. 6- May 23.

The exhibit includes fire department and artifacts going back to the beginning of the department over 130 years ago, plus uniforms you can try on and a firefighting Wii game you can play.

“I’ll bet my kids will do better at this than I am,” chuckled deputy chief and Lethbridge Firefighter historian Dana Terry, trying out the game.
Galt Museum curator Wendy Aitkens, Chief Richard Hildebrand, Dana Terry and Jesse Kurtz  plus several retired firefighters got together to brainstorm ideas for the exhibit, which the Galt developed over the past six to eight months due to public request.

“We sat around a table brainstorming ideas and deciding what stories we wanted to tell,” Aitkens said.
“Dana read over these stories and really helped polish them,” she said.

“The fire department has been very helpful by lending us artifacts and clothing people can try on,” she said.
 “I hope the public will see we have a very long history,” said Kurtz, a  39 year veteran, observing a lot has changed with Lethbridge firefighters and EMS.
“I’ve used most of the equipment in the exhibit,” he observed, pointing out a multi use key in one case.
“We had to polish that black. There couldn’t be any rust on it,” he recalled, noting he had only heard of other items such as gas masks from the 1940s and 50s but had never used them.
He observed the exhibit turned out well  especially considering how much information and the numerous items available for it.
“It’s a great display. It covers everything. It would be easy for it to be overwhelming. But it is definitely not overwhelming,” Kurtz said, adding he enjoyed looking at all of the old photographs of  firefighters doing their jobs.

 He said the fire department has seen a lot of improvements even over the past 40 years.
“There is better equipment and gear now. But the biggest change is safety. There is better safety for the members and the public,” Kurtz said.
“And our fire trucks have computers in them,” he said adding they help the trucks run.

Lethbridge has had an active firefighting service since a volunteer fire brigade started in 1886. A full-time fire department was established in 1909 and it has grown into a fully modern force. Emergency medical care, in the early years of the city, was provided by available doctors and nurses and thJesse Kurtz and some of the artifacts he has used in the line of duty, on display in We Are Here To Serve: Fire and EMS. Photo by Richard Amerye Galt Hospital ambulance  In 1912, Lethbridge fire department took over the operation of the ambulance, provided trained personnel, and this was the beginning of the city’s integrated fire and emergency medical service.

Dana Terry, a 19 year veteran of the fire department was fascinated by reading the daily logs  firefighters filled out in the early years of the department.
“Firefighters were responsible for filling out log books, so it was interesting to read about their day to day routines. They used to use horses, so there are notes about buying oats,” he said adding there are also records of injuries to firefighters caused by horses.

“There’s a note about a member who got kicked by a horse and broke his leg. And another about a couple of members who were injured while training them and they bolted,” he said.
Terry also observed the log’s record of buying a new steam engine after the Balmora Hotel fire in 1911 was especially interesting as the fire department recently bought a new fire engine.
“They had some information about the proposal for the new steam engine. So it was really interesting to read that because we just bought a new engine,“ he said.
“ We don’t do daily logs anymore. It’s all on computer,” he observed.Wendy Aitkens examines some of the artifacts in We Are Here To Serve: Fire and EMS. Photo by Richard Amery

The exhibit  tells the history of the Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Service from its earliest days to today through stories, photographs and artifacts.
 Aitkens was able to learn the answers to several questions she had about firefighting like why there is always a fire truck on hand at the scene of a car accident— because they always have EMS  on board.

“There was a brigade in 1886. But when they officially formed in 1888, it was a volunteer fire department and the town was mostly wooden buildings. When the bell rang everybody came  dressed as  they were. Now they have protective uniforms from head to toe,” Aitkens related.
“A steady water supply was rare then,” she said, noting ambulance, emergency services were incorporated into the brigade in 1912.
“I think that makes the Lethbridge department the oldest integrated fire department in north America,” she mused.
“Lethbridge Fire Department has a 130 year history, so we’re very proud of that,” Dana Terry said.
 Throughout the exhibit’s run there will be special guest speakers  providing informative presentations in conjunction with the exhibit. The  first one is March 2 from 2-3 p.m. featuring  Dana Terry speaking about the early days of the Lethbridge Fire Department.
Retired Captain Wayne McGinn will share stories  about working as a firefighter and EMS  provider on March 16 from 2-3 p.m. And  April 22 will feature another presentation about  the history of fire and emergency services with  interactive  activities.

A version of this story appears in the  Feb.  10, 2016 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor