Skip to content

Author and family have long, deep association with fire department

Cathy Dobson Sarnia Fire Rescue will unveil its latest educational tool at an open house at the East Street station July 15.
Sarnia Fire Chief John Kingyens, left, history writer Phil Egan, and Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Van Gaver, right, at the Clifford Hansen Fire Station on East Street, where a public open house is planned July 15. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia Fire Rescue will unveil its latest educational tool at an open house at the East Street station July 15.

The $9,000 fire safety house is inflatable, fully accessible, and ideal for teaching children how to respond in a fire, says Chief John Kingyens.

“It’s got a kitchen, a bedroom and a slide from the window that the kids will find fun. It’s a very good addition and we will get a lot of use out of it,” he said.

Sarnia Fire Rescue has had a fire safety house for decades thanks to the efforts of a local family that lost their 24-year-old daughter in a house fire. After Frances Egan died in 1985, the Egan family tirelessly promoted a “Get Out Alive” program in Sarnia.

They also have championed several other campaigns to improve fire safety and save lives. The Egans successfully pushed for a municipal smoke alarm bylaw long before the provincial law was enacted.

They fought to stop cuts to the fire department that would have closed the East Street station. And they launched the Get out Alive program so children can learn what to do if fire breaks out.

It continues to this day with the new inflatable fire safety house. A plaque on the trailer reads: In Memory of Frances Egan.

The open house will also feature the launch of a book by Frances’ brother Phil Egan who has penned a 290-page history of the Sarnia fire department.

Egan spent 21 months painstakingly researching and writing the department’s history, from its inception in 1840 to the present day.

The book, “Walking Through Fire. The History of Sarnia’s Bravest,” is a testament to courage, said Egan.

“I don’t think firefighters get enough credit for what they do. They risk their lives to save others,” he said. “Not many realize what the job really entails.”

Before writing his 50-chapter history, Egan interviewed three dozen retired and active firefighters who were there for many of the city’s most infamous fires. Those interviews, along with local newspapers, books, and historic archives helped Egan piece together the details of virtually every fire fought in Sarnia. They include the “calamitous” fires that plagued early Sarnia, the burning of the SS Hamonic in 1945, the New Year’s fire at the original Riding Club in 1950, the horrific Tang fire that took the lives of three children in 1989, and the raging fire at Imperial Oil’s hydrocracker in 2006.

Egan’s book takes a dramatically personal turn when he writes about his own sister’s death by smoke inhalation.  It’s a chapter in which he describes that gut-wrenching day and how his family responded through the formation of the Frances Egan Foundation and the distribution of free smoke alarms.

Egan tells of his late father’s determination to launch educational programs about fire safety in Sarnia schools.  It’s fitting that the book is being launched on the same day the new fire safety house is unveiled, he said.

Walking Through Fire, published by the Sarnia Historical Society, turned out to be much more than a detailed history of the fire department. By necessity, Egan found he needed to tell Sarnia’s history as well.

“The two are intertwined,” he explained. “There’s no question, this is the definitive story of Sarnia’s fire department and the latest Sarnia history.”

Egan is chief editor at the Sarnia Historical Society and a Sarnia Journal columnist. He will be at the East Street fire hall open house, which runs 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on July 15. Egan will be signing books and The Book Keeper will be selling them for $39.95.

Egan said he also has a novel in the works and hopes to write histories of the Sarnia police department and city park system.

Join the Community: Receive Our Daily News Email for Free