AMHERST – Dr. Brian Ferguson has been in awe of the Amherst Fire Department for 31 years.
Just after moving to Amherst with his wife, Dr. Celina White, to open a medical practice, Ferguson was at a meeting when he learned his office, located in the Maritime Block building on Church Street, was on fire.
He went to the fire scene, thinking all was lost, when he was amazed at how the firefighters were running into danger when everyone else was running away.
“Here were these people, some with shirts and ties on, some who were blue collar workers and others changing on the fly, putting their gear on and heading into the fire,” Ferguson said during the Amherst Fire Department’s 135th anniversary dinner.
It wasn’t long after that, that the Amherst physician became a huge supporter of the fire service. The support has included volunteering with the department’s annual ladder sit for Muscular Dystrophy that has raised thousands of dollars for it MD campaign.
Ferguson and members of the fire department also honoured a person who has been involved with the ladder sit since its beginning. Nurse Dawn Thompson retired after this past June’s ladder sit, that raised more than $11,500 for the MD campaign.
The veteran physician, who served as guest speaker for the anniversary dinner on Nov. 3, said the Windsor Block fire in 2012 is another example of the department’s dedication and commitment to overcome the fear of personal harm or worse.
“While the fire was happening below, you were going door to door above making sure everyone was out, knowing the first could get worse or the building could collapse,” Ferguson said. “The building would eventually collapse, but you made sure everyone was out and safe.”
He also noted the self-sacrifice the department’s membership makes everytime there’s a fire call and the impact it has on wives and children at all hours of the day and during holidays such as Christmas.
“You walk into disaster when everyone else is walking out. That’s what makes you different from the rest of the community,” Ferguson said. “You are special people. The people of Amherst and Cumberland County can sleep well at night knowing that if something happens they will come for you.”
Amherst Mayor David Kogon congratulated the fire department on its service to the community.
The mayor also recognized the department and its auxiliary for its work in the community including the ladder sit and the burn unit curling bonspiel as well as its support of various community organizations.
“All of that requires a huge amount of commitment and time which often results in you missing important family events like birthdays and anniversaries,” the mayor said. “To those family members we say thank you for the support you give your firefighters. Together you and your firefighter made a huge commitment to ensure a great quality of life to all of us in Amherst.”
He also thanked the employers of Amherst who allow their firefighter employees to leave their jobs to respond to fire calls.
The town, he said, recognizes its responsibility to provide equipment such as a new command vehicle for the chief and working toward the purchase of a new fire truck and communications vehicle.
Chief Greg Jones said it’s amazing to think of how many people have served in the fire department since its inception in 1883.
“Just think of how many people have come through these doors in 135 years and I even think of those who have come through here since I first joined the fire department,” Jones said. “For us as a department it’s a chance to celebrate our accomplishments.”
The department, he said, has 52 members and responded to 259 calls in the past year – a decline of 14 from last year. He said the department’s members have worked to fulfill its mission statement by adopting a team approach and continuously undergoing training.
Lynn Arsenault joined her husband, Kenny, and son, Daniel, in accepting the cheque from the firefighters association.
“Amherst firefighters have been supporting families affected by neuromuscular disorders since 1964. It’s a partnership we’re very proud of and greatly appreciate,” Arsenault said on behalf of the MD Association of Canada. “To date, an impressive $566,000 has been raised by your members in your community.”
The department presented a number of awards, including a five-year award to Andrew Bickle, a 10-year award to Kurt Fawthrop, 15-year awards to Leon Burke, Kelly Chappell and Lt. Bob Sperry, a 20-year award to Jody MacKenzie, 25-year awards to Capt. David Black, Capt. Stephen Landry and Capt. John Matthews and a 40-year award to Gary Hunter.
The firefighter of the year award was presented to Craig Churchill and top attendance awards went to Steve Wood and Robert Sears.