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New fire department decals use past as inspiration for future

The Lethbridge Fire Department has deep-rooted history in the community.

For context, Lethbridge was incorporated as a town in 1890 and as a city in 1906 – 20 years after LFD's origins in 1886. In July 1886, the Steamship Alberta was docked for the last time in the Lethbridge river valley and the bell was then taken and hung up downtown as the combined fire/curfew bell.

Now, 136 years later, a recent addition to the LFD fleet downtown features throwback looks to honour their distinguished past.

Stationed at Fire Station No. 1, the new mid-mount Tower 11 has been decked out in a grey and red pattern with 1886-style decals inspired by photos from that era. The decals were designed by Dallas Scott, a seven-year veteran Firefighter/Paramedic who is self-taught in art and graphic design.

"I wanted to showcase and honour the department with a clean traditional Maltese cross –complemented by the accents and details, including a strong deep rooted LFD letter stack, to show unity between the department's brotherhood, the City of Lethbridge and the community we serve," says Scott.

"It is a traditional piece and we thought we'd get back to some of our roots," says Captain Kelly L'Hirondelle. "Anytime we can take some pride in what we are doing and acknowledge our history, it's definitely a positive. We have had quite a few questions and lot of positive comments, including from members of City Council and retired firefighters."

The idea was promoted by now-retired former Fire Chief Marc Rathwell during the process to replace the old T-Rex truck as options were discussed for paint, decals and lettering. Several ideas were incorporated, including the new-old look, the fact that LFD has proudly been an integrated service for more than 100 years – and adding several memorial acknowledgements.

"We've gone through and we've put names of all our fallen firefighters on all of our different trucks. It's unfortunate we have that many names," says L'Hirondelle, adding that Tower 11 has Captain John Wagontall's name on it. Last month, Captain Wagontall's family was able to view the truck. "His wife was overwhelmed and she was quite happy. From a department standpoint, and from a personal standpoint, it is a small gesture but I really think it means a lot to us and to the families."

"They laid the groundwork for us and we are laying the groundwork for other people," says Deputy Chief Cody Gundlock. "It creates so much good energy."

Some of the newer members of LFD can also use it as a learning tool by asking questions and getting stories about those who came before them.

"It's probably done more than we ever expected," says L'Hirondelle. "It's not just the Lethbridge Fire Department, it's not just the City of Lethbridge – there's a personal attachment there."

Another LFD vehicle has also recently included some Indigenous art to its look. Engine 53, based at Fire Station 5, features both sides painted with horses on a blue backdrop and on an orange/red backdrop. This design is part of a larger ongoing project which includes further plans for the station and the surrounding area. 

"Whether it was for battle, hunting, or counting coup, a painted horse was an embodiment of prayer, protection and good fortune for the owner of the horse," says artist Rudy Black Plume. "This piece is to honour the bravery and courage of those who put their lives on the line to protect and ensure the safety of their communities, just like the warriors of the past. This design is a representation of the Blackfoot value, aoahkannaistokawa, which means 'everything comes in pairs.' It can also mean balance or duality. For this piece, I wanted to highlight the duality and power of fire and water. Both are mutually destructive but are also needed to sustain life. The horses are a representation of this balance."

Plans are tentatively in place keep adding this look when fire vehicles get lifecycle replacements.

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