At the moment the keys met his hands, Daniel Gendron, deputy mayor of Lac Mégantic, Quebec, had tears in his eyes.
He accepted a surplus ladder fire truck from Hamilton’s fire department with deep gratitude, saying it is just what his city needs, after oil tankers derailed and ignited the small Quebec town's downtown in July. The disaster destroyed blocks upon blocks of the community and many city assets, including an aerial fire truck.
Gendron and colleagues from the fire service in Lac Mégantic were in Hamilton Wednesday for a hand-over ceremony and to drive the truck back to their hometown.
“To give a truck like that to our city, it’s a big gift,” he said. “We just have a small town of 6,000 people and a budget of $15 million. When we have a gift like that... I don’t really have words to say to the city of Hamilton.”
Hamilton’s fire chief Rob Simonds said it was one of his staff members, Scott de Jager, who noticed Lac Mégantic was looking for a new ladder truck.
“We were in the process of decommissioning one of ours and putting it up for auction,” Simonds said.
The 1993 truck, known as Ladder 16, was no longer suitable for a growing urban centre but would do the trick in a rural community. The truck was well taken care of by city mechanics and firefighters, Simonds said, and can serve Lac Mégantic for years to come.
“We are the biggest little town amongst many other little towns and we only have two ladders in the County of Lac Mégantic. By losing one aerial truck on the night [of July 6], everyone was in trouble,” said volunteer firefighter Dom Dostie. “With this gift, we can ensure good service.”
Dostie, who also works for the County of Lac Mégantic as an electrician, said he and his colleagues work long days trying to get the city restored.
“Change the sewage, clean up the town, clean contamination,” he said, of some of the day-to-day responsibilities on their lists. “Things are hard, but we’re moving on and building a new town.”
Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina told media at the ceremony he travelled to Lac Mégantic in the summer.
“The experience in Lac Megantic brought us together as Canadians,” he said. “The entire country grieved over the terrible tragedy.”
The gift speaks to the fraternity between first responders across the country, and Hamilton’s willingness to help, Bratina said.
“The defining characteristic of Hamiltonians is that when a need is shown, Hamilton responds,” he said. “I hope you never forget Hamilton. We will never forget Lac Mégantic.”
On the way to Lac Mégantic, the Hamilton truck encountered another opportunity to serve. While driving on Highway 401, the Lac Mégantic team spotted a truck that was on fire 80 kilometres west of Kingston.
"They pulled over and used fire extinguishers to put out the flames," said Claudio Mostacci, a spokesperson for the Hamilton Fire Department.