Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quick-thinking crew handles fire-truck fire

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Crews scramble to fix the fire truck Friday at Brokenhead.

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Crews scramble to fix the fire truck Friday at Brokenhead.

VOLUNTEER firefighters came up with a quick fix when their fire truck caught fire battling a wild fire north of Winnipeg.

The crew of firefighters from Brokenhead First Nation were in the middle of Poplar Park, a field that borders the Ojibwa First Nation, when grass caught up under the engine ignited, sending smoke billowing out from the hood.

The truck, a 1981 Chevy rigged up with fire equipment, is used to fight the region's frequent grass fires.

But Friday, the truck almost went up in flames.

Its loss would have endangered the First Nation, since the old truck is equipped with a sturdy four-wheel drive able to ride the ruts and hillocks in grass-and-marsh terrain that surrounds the First Nation.

"I'm not sure what they used but these guys are backyard mechanics, and by scrounging parts, they can make anything rock," a grateful First Nation Chief Jim Bear said by text Saturday.

Bear called the fix a genuine MacGyver move, referring to the TV action hero who could improvise miracles out of rubber bands and wire to save the day.

The popular network show aired in the 1980s and 1990s.

"Ray Bear is our fire chief and Jodie Chief is the young man who never thought twice about sacrificing his own truck parts to help put out the fire," the chief said.

The community has a crew of about 10 men and women trained as firefighters. That includes the fire chief's wife, who is one of two female firefighters.

The crew was called out after 2 p.m. Friday when a grass fire on the west side of the highway sent flames six metres high.

It came within 100 feet of the First Nation's land, which is heavily developed with private homes and commercial buildings, including the South Beach Casino. There was no property damage and no injuries, but the crews battled the fire until 10 p.m. and monitored the area overnight as a precaution.

Eyewitness reports of smoke came from as far north as Grand Beach 42 kilometres away.

"As the crew was using our 1981 Chev fire truck, the engine caught fire but they were able to contain it," the chief said of the crew.

He recalled he made his own emergency run to Winnipeg for truck parts while firefighters on the scene improvised in the field.

Firefighter Jodie Chief said after the crew got the fire out, he checked under the hood and identified the parts that were burned -- including spark-plug wires and various hoses.

"I just took it upon myself to take the wires off my truck. It's a 1994 GMC, so it fit. And I put them on the other truck.

"We were able to get the power going and go back to fighting the fire," the firefighter said.

Fire Chief Ray Bear said the truck caught fire when dry grass caught in the wheels as the truck rolled over the overgrown terrain to reach the grass fire.

The ground was so wet, it kept getting stuck but the grass on top was dry as a bone, so it was no surprise the heat from the engine ignited it.

Getting it working again was essential, he said. "We depend on this fire truck. It's saved the community quite a few times... Jodie just yanked the wires out of his truck to get ours going again. We weren't under full power but we could still use it," he said.

The fire chief said he expected to spend the weekend getting the fire truck back in shape again and returning the parts to Chief so he can get his truck going.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2014 A5

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