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ROOTED: Local firefighters have kept Newmarket safe for 200 years

With roots tracing back to the early 1800s, Newmarket’s firefighters – and today’s Central York Fire Services – have long shown their commitment to the town

Providing 24-hour protection to almost 150,000 people across Newmarket and Aurora, Central York Fire Services not only keeps the community safe by responding to fires and other emergencies, but trains a safer public through their comprehensive public safety education programs.

Keeping the community running smoothly isn’t anything new for the fire service, which – albeit separately through the Town of Aurora Fire Department and the Town of Newmarket Fire Department before their consolidation in January 2002 become Central York Fire Services – has been in operation since the early 1800s.

The history of Newmarket’s fire service stretches back to the early 1800s, when Timothy Rogers, a Quaker from Vermont, first settled the land that would later become the town of Newmarket. Without the technology of today, bucket brigades were the only method of fighting fires. Together, members of the community would work together to extinguish any fires by hand.

In 1837, the settlement got its first hand pumper – allowing them to access higher levels of a structure and fight fires more efficiently. Still owned by Central York Fire Services today, this hand pumper was able to shoot water collected in buckets, reducing the firefighters’ proximity to danger.

The year 1859 saw Newmarket’s next jump forward in technology, with the acquisition of a manned pumper. Five or six men would stand on either side of the pump, and work in tandem to shoot water even higher.

As the community grew, so did demands for a more organized firefighting system. Freshly incorporated as a village, and with a population of 700, Newmarket established its first fire department in 1857. The community had approximately 78 volunteer firefighters, all unpaid, who would work as a crew to run the hand pumper, set up ladders, and save anyone inside. One decade later, in 1866, the first fire hall was opened on Newmarket’s Main Street.

Now with better equipment at hand, Newmarket slashed its firefighting force to just 20 in 1900. The early to mid-1900s were marked by a series of strategic purchases, with the department purchasing its first Ford Model T car – used as a makeshift fire truck – in June 1921. In 1930, the Newmarket Fire Department purchased an official Bickle Fire Engine truck, a highly effective 800 imperial gallon pumper.

Interestingly enough, that original Ford Model T car would later go on to serve Newmarket with aplomb once more. When Hurricane Hazel blew out the Newmarket dam in 1954, it was used to reinforce the concrete beneath the structure – where it still remains today.

From 1973 to 2006 – including two years as a volunteer – now retired Rod Bruton worked as a firefighter in the area, and continues his work today as a local historian who specializes in Central York Fire Services. Not only did he experience the shift from a phone-based fire alert system for firefighters, to a paging system, and, finally, to 911 dispatch first-hand, he also was present for the Town of Newmarket Fire Department’s amalgamation with The Town of Aurora Fire Department in 2002 – a decision, Bruton said, that effectively streamlined the towns' operations.

“What it’s done is made it better for the firefighters and better for the residents of the town,” said Bruton. “We have better response.”

Though somewhat controversial among firefighters at the time, the consolidation was ultimately a successful collaboration between the towns of Aurora and Newmarket, the fire departments’ management, and the two labour representatives: the Aurora Professional Firefighters Association and the Newmarket Professional Firefighters Association.

Central York Fire Services today covers a total area of 90 square kilometres, with 154 staff that operate out of five fire stations – three in Aurora and two in Newmarket. The newest location, Station 4-5 at 300 Earl Stewart Dr. in Aurora is the first fire station to be jointly built by the two towns since the consolidation of the two departments. Opened September 2022, this fire station will act as Central York Fire Services’ new headquarters and training facility.

Today, Central York Fire Services responds to approximately 5,000 emergency calls each year – a number expected – but not hoped – to grow with Newmarket and Aurora.