Port Alberni has a fireboat today because someone offered the fire department of the day a surplus vessel from the Second World War.
In 1946 or thereabouts, someone offered the Port Alberni Fire Department a surplus 1942 fire tug, purchased from the US War Assets Corp. in Seattle for a nominal price. The fire tug was named the MV Frank Harrison.
Frank Harrison was fire chief in Port Alberni in the 1920s, and was a memorable personality. “He was actually a Teamster around here in the time of the horse and wagons,” said Rusty Phillips, who also served as chief with the fire department (1975–1995).
Phillips recalled the fire tug—which was the first of two boats named the Frank Harrison—was purchased because a lumber ship had caught fire in port and the feeling was that a fireboat would be useful to help fight any future fires from the water side.
The fire tug was eventually sold to the Bamfield Volunteer Fire Department and plans made for a second fireboat for Port Alberni.
The second Frank Harrison vessel was built in 1977 by John Dunn and Company Ltd. It was already well into the planning stage when Phillips joined the PAFD in 1975, he recalled. The Frank Harrison 2 looked like a flat-bottomed landing barge: it was Fiberglas, boasted two drive engines and two pump engines, and had a bit of a foredeck where someone could stand as well.
Phillips said he couldn’t recall any major fires where the Frank Harrison 2 was pressed into duty. “Times were changing; the pulp mill tore its pier down and another mill tore theirs down as well,” he said.
The thought of a ship catching fire and creosote-soaked pilings from the piers igniting were no longer threats, he added.
The Frank Harrisons were not the first fireboats for the Alberni Valley. In July 1924, which was a bad one for forest fires, a fire broke out in Dry Creek, near the eastern boundary of Port Alberni. According to a write up in Twin Cities: Alberni-Port Alberni by Jan Peterson, careless berry pickers started the fire by accident. The fire burned for a month, threatening Port Alberni as well as the Tsheshaht First Nation village at Polly Point.
As a result of the fire, the S.S. Patsco was kitted out as a fireboat.
The Frank Harrison 2 served the Port Alberni Fire Dept. until 2010, when the Harbour Chieftain took over. The Chieftain is a boat operated jointly between the Port Alberni Port Authority and City of Port Alberni.
This photo is one of nearly 24,000 in the Alberni Valley Museum’s collection. See more at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com/ Many of the history books cited in the Look Back series are available for purchase at the AV Museum. Call 250-720-2863 for more information.