N.B.-Maine firefighting tradition endures 9/11, COVID-19 on the border
ST. STEPHEN, N.B. -- Sirens can be heard at the Canada/U.S. land crossing whenever a major fire breaks out in St. Stephen, N.B.
It's the same story whenever there's smoke and flames in Calais, Me.
Firefighters in both border communities follow a long tradition of crossing the international border to provide help and equipment during emergencies.
"We automatically cross the border, both ways" says Sean Morton, chief of the St. Stephen Fire Department. "They come here, we go there."
The unique arrangement was chronicled in a 1937 New York Times story with the headline "Calais and St. Stephen Forget the Border In Fighting Fires…"
A 1988 piece in the Los Angeles Times quoted a former Calais city manager who said"the trucks don't stop at Customs when they're responding to a fire."
Times have changed, with 9/11 and COVID-19 in the last 20 years alone.
While the pandemic and heightened border security have impacted the cross-border fire response, it proudly continues on both sides of the St. Croix River.
"We have to regularly submit our roster to border services and they basically pre-clear us," says Morton. "We've never had any issues that way."
Sharing resources between fire departments is common up and down the New Brunswick/Maine boundary line. Nearby U.S. border communities often provide equipment not immediately available in Canada, and vice-versa.
For example, firefighters in Woodstock, N.B. were able to get a major 2016 fire under control once a ladder truck from Houlton, Me. arrived.
The St. Stephen Fire Department, which has relied on Calais' ladder truck for decades, is planning to purchase its own this spring. The purchase comes as the ladder truck in Calais approaches the end of its lifespan.
"We're going to return that favour to them," says Morton. "It's a nice piece of equipment that's going to benefit the community at large, both here and across the border."