After 33 years with the St. John’s Fire Department, Robert Corbett has fought a lot of flames, but according to his new book — “Faithful and Fearless — The
History of the St. John’s Fire Department” — one of the greatest battles of the city’s fire department over the years has been soldiering through the neglect it has experienced from various forms of government.
Robert Corbett wrote “Faithful and Fearless — The History of the St. John’s Fire Department” after working for 33 years with the department.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Corbett has been retired for 12 years now. He says he always thought somebody should write a book paying tribute to the department. When he retired, he realized if he didn’t do it, perhaps nobody would, so he got to work.
From 1968 on, a lot of what Corbett writes about is first-hand knowledge — things he experienced himself as part of the crew.
Still, he did about three years of research to learn about the time previous.
“I wanted to tell the story of the St. John’s Fire Department. It’s a story that had to be told and that should have been told years ago,” he says.
And while part of that story is of bravery and dedication, to hear Corbett tell it, another part of it is less inspirational.
“One of the my chapters in the book is called ‘The bastard child at a family reunion.’ And that’s exactly how the fire department was treated by government.”
Corbett says that when the department was under the Department of Justice, and later when it fell under the city’s jurisdiction, there was barely enough funding to keep the institution going — just base salaries for the people and minimal cash for the equipment.
“The equipment was neglected and we tried to keep old equipment on the streets and on the roads,” says Corbett.
He adds they used to call the mechanics who worked on their machines “miracle workers” for being able to keep the trucks going for so long.
Corbett also goes on to criticize how the men and women who worked for the department were ignored.
“The St. John’s Fire Department has provided about 160-odd years of service to the city of St. John’s. And not one firefighter got the Queen’s diamond jubilee medal,” he says.
But the book isn’t all critical. It’s also celebratory.
Corbett says he doesn’t tell his personal story in the book because he wanted it to be about the history of the department and not about one individual. He includes the stories of several famous fires including the Knights of Columbus fire and the Chafe’s Nursing Home fire.
Through fact and example, Corbett attempts to bring across his other message with his book — that there is a very able and willing group on call any time to offer their lives as service.