FireFest 2019 takes on Detroit flavour

From left, municipal councillors Amy Finn and Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, Mayor Darrin Canniff, Cathy Smith of Waste Connections Canada, FireFest co-chairs Brent DeNure and Dave Robichaud, and TekSavvy’s Milinda Chambers showcase this 1971 Chevrolet ambulance that served a Kansas fire department many years ago. It and more than 100 other antique emergency vehicles will be on display for FireFest Sept. 21 in Chatham.

Brent DeNure gets by with a little help from his friends.

That’s the case this year for the co-chair of FireFest, who just a year ago said the event was done after he became fatigued from dealing with municipal red tape.

But after working things out with the municipality, something he said was made possible by Mayor Darrin Canniff, DeNure was encouraged to change his mind and keep the popular event running.

DeNure, who normally plans well in advance, had little thought out for FireFest 2019, however. Enter friends from across the Ambassador Bridge.

“Usually with FireFest, I do about a 15-month plan out, so I have got a good idea of Year Two before we even do Year One. With what happened, I didn’t have the luxury of time I usually have,” he said. “But I do have friends. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of friends with the Detroit Fire Department (DFD). Consequently, there is a big Detroit flavour this year.”

On Sept. 21, Chatham’s downtown will have more than 100 antique fire trucks on display, with a number of them from Detroit.

DeNure said that includes the department’s memorial rig, a 1937 Seagrave Safety Sedan that is used to take fallen firefighters to their final resting place.

“This will be the first time it’s ever been shown outside the U.S.,” DeNure said.

Also on display will be a 1927 Packard ambulance, the first ambulance used by the DFD. DeNure said it has undergone extensive museum-quality restoration.

It will be part of a display of ambulances at FireFest that will show the evolution of the emergency services vehicle.

DeNure credited TekSavvy and Waste Connections Canada as key sponsors that gave organizers the ability to put together this year’s event

“When you have corporate citizens as these step up the way they did, we’re able to bring a big show,” he said. “We’re going to have some Course d’Elegance level pieces here for people to see.”

Special guests will include Pulitzer Prize nominated Bill Eisner who has covered fires in Detroit for 50 years; Nicholas Neumann, owner of Fire Replicas, who has done models for a number of fire departments around the United States, but many specifically for the DFD; and possibly Andy Swift from Jay Leno’s Garage, if he can fit it into his schedule.

DeNure said the interest in FireFest continues to spread well beyond Chatham-Kent’s borders.

“We’ve really been touched by how many people from beyond Chatham-Kent have reached out. I got a call from a lady from Windsor who wanted to know how she and her family could volunteer. FireFest had become an annual event for she and her family. She’s got one son now that is pursuing a career in emergency services and they credit FireFest as being a catalyst for that,” he said.

Because of the DFD flavour this year, DeNure said there will be members of the Detroit media on hand for FireFest.

Canniff said the event is a big one for the community.

“This is one of many events we need to have in Chatham-Kent. It brings the community together. It’s a world-class event,” he said. “There are going to be over a hundred different fire engines, one of the biggest such events in North America. We’re going to attract over 10,000 people to this event.”

Dava Robichaud is co-chairing this year’s FireFest, and DeNure called her a “beacon of new energy and life.”

Robichaud said she wanted to get involved for multiple reasons.

“I love to do things in the community. I was born and raised here. Having things to do for my family, for my grandkids, is big. So if I want things for them to do, I have to get involved,” she said. “My father was a firefighter and so it was important to me to help Brent bring this event back. It’s something, as a family, my kids got to see a part of their grandpa that they never ever knew.”

Cathy Smith of Waste Connections Canada said this is the third year the company has sponsored FireFest.

“We really feel entrenched in the community. We’re a part of it. We like to create opportunities for the community to come together,” she said.

Milinda Chambers, community engagement team member at TekSavvy said her firm is happy to assist.

“We want to be a player in helping the community. It’s very important to us. It’s a big initiative this year,” she said. “This is a very important event that we feel we must support.”

FireFest’s big day is Sept. 21, but the event begins in Thamesville Sept. 20.

“Every year we make a concerted effort for it to be a Chatham-Kent event. On the Friday before (Sept. 20), we’re going to convoy out to Thamesville and have a nice cruise through the streets of Thamesville and stage the trucks in front of Johnny Quest’s for an hour or so,” DeNure said.

On Sept. 21, FireFest opens at 10 a.m. There will be children’s activities in the downtown as well. Plus the DFD Clown Team will be at the event for much of the day.

The parade will signal the end of FireFest at 4 p.m. The route will be different this year, due to the construction along Grand Avenue.

It will run west on King Street to Merritt Avenue, then to Riverview Drive and then north on Keil Drive to the former Target parking lot.

For a full schedule of events, please see the Sept. 19 Chatham Voice, or visit

As for the future of FireFest, DeNure said it is bright.

“After what Mayor Canniff did and with the new energy that’s been introduced, it would be foolish to just make this a one and out. I’ve already got 20 ideas for 2020, 2021 and 2022. We’re three or four years out for ideas and I’m prepared to stick around for a while.”


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