Halifax Fire’s First Aerial.

The Nova Scotia Board of Fire Underwriters were unhappy with the city of Halifax’s Fire Department. Equipment was old, and they were concerned that Halifax lacked any sort of aerial appliance. The Underwriters went so far as to offer a $0.05 discount on all policies in a 1904 memo to the city, should the city procure an Aerial Ladder with an 80′ turntable ladder 8 call-men crew.

The cities Board of Fire Wards had been suggesting the procurement of an Aerial Ladder for several years as well, and in their report to council of March 6, 1906 identified the need for new engines to replace old equipment, and to expand coverage due to city growth. The report recommended procuring an Aerial Ladder truck and Equipment among other equipment.

The Aerial was required due to “Electrical and Telephone wires making “Old Fashioned Ladders” of little use in the business District”, and explained that “Aerial designs are the only type that can be erected in a modern city.”  Council generally agreed with the report, agreeing to buy the equipment, but an amendment was moved to remove the Aerial ladder purchase. The vote was lost on a tie – the tiebreaking vote to proceed being cast by the Mayor. Halifax would get it aerial, and in July the City advertised tenders for the equipment.

Responses were received form several vendors, and In August, council accepted a bid from the Halifax Firm of Macdonald & Co. Ltd. to supply an 80′ Horton Aerial Truck, beating out La France and Seagrave models, subject to meeting department specifications. The cost was $4,900.

The Horton Aerial ladder was patented in 1894 by another Haligonian W.J Horton. Horton’s design was intended to “improve the construction of fire ladder apparatus in such manner as shall make them more efficient in use and so that the apparatus shall, in its construction and operation, combine the practical advantages of the ordinary hand ladder truck a main extension ladder useful at high buildings, and a substantial water tower.”

There must have been some wiggle room in the design, as in February 1907, Halifax council sends Fire Chief Broderick to Quebec, Montreal and Toronto to inspect Aerial Ladders in Use, and to assist in preparations of requirements for the Halifax Department’s ladder. Chief Broderick reported to council in a month later that he had an excellent trip, and witnessed several improvements that could be applied to the operations of the Halifax Fire Department. He also was impressed watching several aerial ladders in operation at a large fire in Montreal and commented that “the fires are fought largely from the outsides of buildings, saving the men from great hardship and actual danger”

Council was sold, and MacDonald & Co ltd. was sent a letter on 9 October notifying them of the award. MacDonald & Co responded with specifications to the Board of Fire Wards in early November, however the board felt they were “vague and unsatisfactory”. Several meetings were held between representatives of the Board and MacDonald & Co, but information supplied by the company remained vague, and they declined to supply blueprints. In frustration, The Board of Fire Wards showed up at the premises of MacDonald & Co on May 30, 1908, and demanded to see the Aerial Ladder. They left, having seen neither the ladder nor any of its parts.

The board had had enough. At the next meeting, the board passed a motion formally rejecting the plans stating that the specifications provided by the company were not suitable for the board of fire ward’s needs. the boards report to council recommended ending the contract, and buying the Seagrave 80′ Aerial Ladder for $5350.00. When council met 7 days later, the motion as recommended is put forward. As debate ensues, Roderick MacDonald requests to address council, and is permitted to do so. In his presentation, he presents a model of the Horton Aerial Ladder. The presentation was obviously effective, and prompts council to pass a series of motions granting a three month extension from that date for MacDonald & co to construct the ladder, if Roderick MacDonald accepts, otherwise to authorize the cancellation of the contract and buy the Seagrave. MacDonald accepts, and the motion passes giving him until September 10 to deliver the ladder.

In July and August, the Fire Underwriters and Board of Fire Wards recommend tests for acceptance of the aerial ladder.  Among the tests, were timing the setup of the ladder to a top South window, and moving to a north window on the Herald Building on Granville street (This building is today better know as the Dennis Building, and at the time a 4 story building, the upper 3 stories being added after a 1912 fire.), and Timing from departure of the Bedford row firehouse, to Ladder erected on the roof of the NS Furnishings building on Barrington Street. Built in 1894, the Nova Scotia Furnishings buildings was one of the Tallest and most modern buildings in Halifax.  

These tests were conducted September 30th, 1908. The timing was done by 2 city aldermen, and the Herald Building test came in at 13minutes 56 seconds, and the Nova Scotia Furnishings test totalled 23minutes, 56 seconds.  Suffice to say, the ladder was found to have failed testing, and a December 14, 1908 motion of the board of Fire Wards confirmed the ladder did not meet requirements, and the board of Fire Wards recommends the truck not be accepted, and that the city have no further dealings with MacDonald & Co on the matter.

The matter of the board of Fire Wards dismissal came before council on January 7, 1909, with a motion to reject the aerial ladder. at the meeting, Roderick Macdonald again asks to address council and is once again permitted to. After his presentation, the contents of which are not recorded in the minutes, A new motion is made to accept the aerial, and passed by a vote of 12 for to 4 against.

A further motion of council authorized payment of $4900.00 for the Aerial ladder and the chief was instructed to prepare estimates for the board on the Annual cost to commission the Horton Aerial. Citizens were also anxious for the ladder to be put into service, as the promised discount was still on the table, once proficiency could be demonstrated.

The initial estimates for horses and hitching gear came in at 1500.00 for setup, and a cost of over $2000.00 annually. By December 1909 the Department had a crew of 8 who could erect the ladder in under 3 minutes, and shift in in under one minute. It was also decided that a 9-member panel would need to be satisfied for the underwriters to honor their discount pledge. the board would be made up of 3 members each from the Board of Fire Wards, the board of fire underwriters, and the Halifax board of trade.

On March 23 the committee rendered their decision that the Horton Aerial ladder was “a workable piece of apparatus”. and the discount would be applied to all policies. the ladder went into service May 1, 1910.

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