Newcastle district fire chief retires after 43 years of service

Sunday night was the last day of service in the long career of Newcastle’s Volunteer District Fire Chief, Alfred Alldread. Even as he spoke by phone to the Orono Times about his impending retirement, Alldread had his pager and radio turned on in case a fire call came through. “I don’t retire until 12 o’clock tonight,” he explained. And there had already been two calls earlier in the day, he said. “The boys were good enough to let me drive on both calls,” he said, with a chuckle.

Sunday was “a very emotional day” for Alldread, capping off a “very satisfying” career that began in June of 1966. With more than 43 years of service, Alldread’s firefighting career outlasted his primary career at General Motors in Oshawa, where he worked for 37-and-a-half years. As far as Clarington Fire Chief Gord Weir could discern, there are no other volunteer firefighters with as many years of service as Alldread.

“It’s very rare with this department,” said Weir. “Almost 44 years is a lot of years for a volunteer. It is certainly something to be very proud of. It’s a great accomplishment, and I don’t think you’ll see too many more like Alf. We just don’t have very many who have provided such service to the residents of Newcastle and Clarington.”

“I’m one of a kind, I guess,” Alldread said, with a laugh, when told no other volunteers were on record as serving for so long in Clarington. “But,” he quickly added, in an effort to share the honour, “there are quite a few guys who have 25 to 30 years as volunteers.”

Alldread did not want to retire. However, he just turned 65-years old last week, so he had no choice, he said. According to a Municipality of Clarington policy, volunteer firefighters must retire at age 60. Since Alldread was already over 60 when the policy was initiated, he was grandfathered in to retire at 65.

“Chief Bill Hesson, the Divisional Chief at the station, wanted to keep me on past 65, but the town has the last say,” noted Alldread. “It’s a liability issue, which is understandable. I’m going to miss it, but maybe it’s time.”

Clarington’s Fire Department is a composite department, with both full-time members and volunteers, according to Chief Weir. “We generally carry 125 volunteer, so each of the five Clarington stations has 25 volunteer members, consisting of one District Chief, four Captains, and 20 volunteer firefighters.”

According to the Clarington Fire Department’s records, it was in 1972 that Alldread moved up to the rank of Captain. Approximately five years later, he became Deputy District Chief, and then in 1995, when the previous chief retired, Alldread took over as District Chief.

The Newcastle fire department started as an all-volunteer station which was known, before it was regionalized, as the Newcastle Village Fire Department, according to Chief Weir. “At that time, it was the old station, it was really like an old garage, a single-car garage,” said Weir. “There was one truck in there and the gear. The first guy in had to pull the gear out of the way.”

“I started my career as a volunteer with the town of Newcastle, so that’s when I first met Alf,” noted Weir. “He is a strong individual, with good leadership skills, and he is well-respected by his men. He runs a very efficient district, and he’s certainly well-regarded.”

Firefighting in Newcastle has definitely changed since Alldread first started. “There’s a lot better equipment now,” he noted.

And the station is much busier these days, according to Clarington’s Chief. “Back then, there was nowhere near the number of calls there is now,” said Weir. “There were only 10 to 20 calls a year.” Nowadays, Newcastle’s fire station sees over 400 calls a year. “We are one of the busiest volunteer stations,” said Alldread. “In 2009, we had 418 calls.”

There have been many happy moments over the course of his firefighting career, said Alldread. “One was the Bennett Road fire. We saved a lady; we did CPR and we used the defibrillator. Later, we met her and her family at one of those big ceremonies. It was very rewarding. And we got the Lightning Bolts award from the Durham Region Ambulance Service for saving someone with a defib.”

When asked if any particular fire stood out in his memory, Alldread was quick with his answer, “The Caledon Propane fire in Bowmanville: that was the scariest. And when you’re right on the front line, it’s even scarier.”

Chief Weir said he was most impressed by the amount of commitment and dedication inherent in Alldread’s many years of volunteer service. “He’s very dedicated,” said Weir. “It takes a lot of commitment, and sacrifice. There’s a lot of sacrifice also made by the family and the children. Alf has a wife and two daughters but when your pager goes off… All those years, there was a lot of sacrifices made to help other people in distress.”

“It was his passion,” said Alldread’s wife, Lynn, explaining why she and her two daughters were willing to endure interrupted family time and late night fire calls for so long. “I was awake for every one of his calls. I know lots of times we’d be on our way somewhere and then, ‘Beep, beep, beep,’ and we’d have to turn around.”

“You just don’t realize how much it takes over your life, how many times you end up saying, ‘I’ll go away some other weekend,’” said Alldread. The proud grandfather of two grandsons, he said he will spend his new-found time doing what he enjoys most, spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and enjoying the outdoors. “It’s another chapter in his life that has closed, and he’s going to go on to the next chapter,” said his wife, Lynn.

But memories of the Newcastle fire station and its firefighters will never be far from his thoughts. “I would like to thank my Captains, and all my firefighters for a job well done,” he said. “I tried to thank them today, but it was an emotional day. But they know.”

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