Transcontinental Media—South River: —
It wasn’t that many years ago that Cassandra (Sissy) Bishop would go to the the fire hall with her father, holding the hem of his jacket as she shuffled along, a little girl in awe of her dad.
Today, Sissy is a grown woman walking in her father’s footsteps as the newest and first female member of the Bay de Grave regional fire department in South River.
That, in itself, is significant. But there’s much more to this story, which also has an undercurrent of tragedy, grief, loss, perseverance and strength.
Frank Bishop Jr., Sissy’s father, died tragically in a plane crash in late May.
His death made national headlines because of the excruciating search in the Labrador wilderness that followed the crash. Because of poor weather conditions, it was several days before the families of Bishop and the pilot, Paul Deering, knew the dreadful fate of their loved ones.
Bishop, 45, was a well-known volunteer, having served for many years on the now-defunct Cupids fire brigade, and was a member of the Cupids town council at the time of his death. He was instrumental in the creation of the new Bay de Grave regional fire department — which serves Cupids, Makinsons, South River, Clarke’s Beach and North River — and which was activated just weeks before his death.
As a tribute to Bishop, his mates on the fire department decided to retire his bunker gear and his No. 24.
His presence is still very much felt as you enter the new fire hall, mainly in the form of the 1971 Ford pumper truck that he played such a role in rebuilding.
But when Sissy stepped forward as a volunteer nearly two months ago, there was no doubt about whose gear and locker she would use, said fire Chief Jeremy Hall.
“We always said it would have to be something special before anyone else would wear that gear. Well, that something special is Cassandra, Frank’s daughter,” said Hall.
“For her to take the initiative to do it and step up to the plate to somewhat fill her father’s shoes, it is extremely nice to have.”
Her first night with the brigade was Oct. 31. Her first task? To hand out Halloween treats to children from the back of the fire truck.
Hall said she’s has taken on her duties with great enthusiasm and has already completed training courses in vehicle extrication, defensive firefighting and marine firefighting.
During a recent interview at the fire hall, Sissy spoke about her decision to join the fire department.
She said it was in her plans for the past several years, and she may have done it sooner, if not for her father’s death.
Like her late father, she’s a no-nonsense type who does what it takes to get the job done. And she doesn’t feel any pressure, despite the fact her father continues to cast a big shadow over the fire department.
“I’m getting so much support and help from everybody,” she said.
She’s also responded to several emergency calls, including an accident that sent chills down her spine. When the brigade arrived, a vehicle was overturned in the ditch.
“All our stomachs dropped,” she said. “We were figuring we would be cutting people out of the car, but luckily everyone was OK.”
So what would Frank Bishop Jr. think of his daughter joining the fire department? There are risks involved, and she’s one of few female firefighters.
“He’d be so proud of me,” Sissy says, a tear streaming down her face.
Her father’s boots are big on her feet, and the helmet flops around on her head a little, but she said she feels an intense pride each time she walks up to her dad’s locker.
The letters “FRANKY B” adorn the front shelf, while “SISSY” has been placed above.
Cassandra said she’s comfortable wearing her father’s gear, since he wouldn’t be happy if it was only collecting dust.
“He would see that as a waste of money,” she said. “He was a very practical man.”
She’s enjoying the experience, and feels at home with her fellow firefighters. In fact, the Bishop clan make up a large percentage of the brigade’s ranks.
Her two uncles, Aubrey and Paul Bishop, her brother Gregory, and cousins David and Andrew Bishop and Claude Garland, are all members of the Bay de Grave department. And her grandfather, Frank Bishop Sr., served many years with the Cupids brigade.
“Half of them are family,” she laughed.
“She’s just like one of the guys,” crew chief Jim Edmunds quipped as he walked past during the interview.
Another firefighter, David Moore Jr., stopped to comment that Frank Bishop Jr. “was a real good man.”
Cassandra said her mother is supportive, and she believes her father is watching over her as well.
“He’s there with us on every call,” she said, “helping us along.”
About Cassandra Bishop
• Age — 19
• Hometown — Cupids
• Nickname — Sissy
• Family — daughter of Bernice Bishop and the late Frank Bishop. Brothers Gregory and Trenton.
• Occupation — student at College of the North Atlantic, Carbonear
• Ambition — teacher
• Hobbies — guitar and violin