MISSION & HISTORY.
The Marsh Harbour Volunteer Fire and Rescue is a volunteer effort that began in 1965 when the water truck belonging to the Great Abaco Hotel, which today (2019) is named Abaco Beach Resort, was used as a make-shift fire engine. The water truck was used to transport water to the hotel from a water source on Don MacKay Boulevard as this was prior to Central Abaco having a water system provided by the government.
This initial effort at providing a fire service was led by Norwel Gordon, who had arrived on Abaco a few years earlier and had fire training and experience in California.
Some years later a Volkswagen van with a portable two-man pump was acquired. The van had no water capacity so the pump had to be positioned on the shore or at a well or water hole.
Over the years the department has acquired used fire engines either as gifts or usually by purchasing through community fund-raising efforts. Occasionally, an engine was available for free from an American fire department that was upgrading and had to dispose of an old engine with little commercial value.
Used fire engines that we can afford run between $10,000 and $20,000 in the U.S. We arrange for shipping, frequently donated, and a customs tax exemption, usually granted. The Abaco Rotary Club once donated an engine and a second homeowner once donated an engine.
In the mid-1970s Commissioner Doug Jones arranged for a community phone for fire responses. This was located at Mr. Gordon’s house where the engines were kept. The phone was a party line with additional phones in five to seven different firemen’s houses for a quick response. Changes to the phone system later resulted in a single response phone in a volunteer dispatcher’s house which is transferred to a cell phone when running errands..
Several years ago it was recognized that the fleet of used engines would be better served if the department had a building or dedicated fire station to keep the equipment out of the weather. It took several years to raise the funds, but the fire station across from Maxwell’s Supermarket is now a reality .
In 2013 the department had five diesel-powered engines available for responding. Our last engine then came with a complete portable Jaws-of-Life hydraulic cutter system. This has expanded the department’s capabilities for assisting at crash scenes by opening crushed vehicles.
Rescue services were expanded several years ago with the formation of a coastal rescue group with training, equipment and a boat donated by the U.S. government’s Northern Command. This boat and associated equipment are safely stored in the fire station.
The volunteers do most of the maintenance and repair work to the engines without pay. It must be remembered that some of these engines are 20 and 30 years old and have seen better days. However, even at 30 years old, an engine may have seen little active use.
Various community-minded persons have made up the volunteer force over the years. The strength of the department lies in the dedicated volunteers who respond day or night to the fire call. The volunteers are not paid and receive no stipend. The department once authorized a stipend for its chief to assist with his phone and personal gas bill.
The service does not normally respond to bush and woods fires unless buildings are threatened. Even then, homeowners bordering woodlands are often advised how to protect their property without a full department response. Fires in immigrant shanty-town communities have been ad constant department challenge.
Several years ago local government for Central Abaco recognized the service provided by the department and authorized a monthly maintenance stipend for the department to assist with expenses. This is greatly appreciated and assists with routine expenses.
The department has recently enlisted the services of community-minded persons to provide management and financial oversight to the department. This committee is comprised of four outside persons and three firemen. They manage the bank account and approve large purchases or expenditures. They also assist with fund raising and community awareness programs.
Although more than 45 years old, Marsh Harbour in not Abaco’s oldest fire service. Hope Town holds this record as government donated a LandRover with a mounted fire pump to the town in the mid-1950s just prior to an election. Hope Town has since upgraded with several engines and a very responsive team of volunteers who respond to maritime emergencies..
Many volunteer fire departments rely on fundraising efforts to supplement, or in some cases primarily support, their financial needs. We encourage corporate sponsors and individual sponsors. We also host various events throughout the year to help raise funds.