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sian, west wales Fireboat Edward M Cotter (6) Fireboat Edward M Cotter 03 Aug 12


Well, it's Canal Days in Port Colborne, Ontario (about 25 miles west of Buffalo) and the town is bustling; a fair bit of tat and bad music, but some interesting ships and (who knows?) might even hear a few good bands before the weekend is out.

I was reading the brochure and there's a piece on one of the visiting boats, Fireboat Edward M Cotter. Let me share the blurb with you:

"Three years before Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, Buffalo's fireboat, currently named the Edward M Cotter, began her 100plus years of service to the City of Buffalo and its fire department.

"Built and commissioned during an era when Buffalo's waterfront and port were booming, the Cotter has been an invaluable asset of fire protection for the numerous warehouses, grain elevators and other facilities that line Buffalo's shores.

"On October 7, 1960, an unprecedented event occurred in American history. On that night, at the age of 60, the Edward M Cotter's extraordinary firefighting abilities were called upon to help Buffalo's fellow firefighters in another country.

"A blaze had erupted in the eight-story Maple Leaf Milling Company, a grain and milling complex in Port Colborne. Despite their efforts, with no fireboat protection of their own, the fire was soon out of control. The Port Colborne Fire Dept desperately needed help and the call went out requesting the Cotter.

"At approximately 8.30 p.m., with no radar of her own to help her navigate, the Cotter began her dangerous trek across the often treacherous waters of Lake Erie, escorted by a Coast Guard cutter. Two hours after receiving the call, the Cotter arrived. With all her guns brought to bear, she fought for more than four hours until the blaze was finally extinguished. On that day, the Edward M Cotter became the first fireboat in the United States to cross the international line to fight a fire."

I remember that night, and I remember seeing the Cotter silhouetted against the deadly glow of the fire - and the arcs of water from the water cannons.

My mum was out playing cards and my Uncle Bud roared into our driveway with his 5 kids packed into his station wagon. He loaded us two and my dad in, and away we sped to see the fire from the west shore of Gravelly Bay. It was amazing. Mum and her card buddies had also downed cards and were somewhere along the same stretch. A rumour went 'round that someone was trapped and dying inside (I don't know if this was true) so we all went home and hoped for the best.

A school friend told us a couple of days later that HIS dad who worked at the mill phoned home and told them to get in the basement and stay there until he told them it was 'all clear'. Apparently, if the fire had reached the flour silos, there was some sort of gas that could have exploded and smashed every pane of glass in the town. And there we were standing on the shore watching ... Duh.

I don't know if it was true at the time but, when my Great Uncle was Second Miller there, it was the biggest flour mill in the British Empire.

Anyway, I'm just mentioning this as I thought, when reading the blurb, how sad that we don't write ballads so much anymore. This story would make a crackin' good one, wouldn't it?

sian, west wales
but currently living back in Port Colborne, Ont.


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