This fiery photo was about to win $5K. Here’s why the fire chief backed out

The Reserve Mines Fire Department in Cape Breton was on its way to winning $5,000 in a Facebook contest when the chief noticed something he liked even more.

Jeff Aucoin said his crew planned to use the contest cash to buy new equipment. He said they’d been fundraising for a year, but the extra money would have helped.

But then he saw a lesser-liked photo from the Smith’s Cove Fire Department in southern Nova Scotia.

“We saw a post from the department that was in second place, Smith’s Cove, telling us their story about not having proper turnout equipment and really struggling with funding,” said Aucoin.

Unlike some of the more eye-catching entrants, the Smith’s Cove photo simply shows about half of the 20-person department standing in front of two of their three trucks.

“Most of our gear is outdated and we are working extremely hard to put everyone into non-expired ppe [personal protective gear],” it reads.

Reserve Mines talked it over and pulled its photo out of the contest, handing first place to Smith’s Cove.

“Most volunteers are in the same boat — we’re all fighting for money — but we saw this as an opportunity to help out a department that was much less fortunate than us,” the Cape Breton fire chief said.

The move meant a lot to Smith’s Cove, both for the money and the message.

“We were all incredibly moved,” said Brandon Brinton, the deputy chief for Smith’s Cove. “We were starting to panic a little bit when we found out we were falling behind. When they got a hold of us, we were all kind of standing on edge. We’re extremely grateful for what they’ve done.”

Brinton said he has no doubt Reserve Mines would have won. He said pulling out was an “incredibly kind gesture” that showed the comradery among fire departments.

“I’m super excited. Our whole department is. It’ll get us two new sets of gear,” Brinton said. “It’s pushing eight or nine years, most of it.”

Insurance brokerage AA Munro runs the contest, which is in its ninth year. The fire halls that get the most likes on their photos win prizes ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

James Smeaton said he’s never seen someone bow out in this fashion in all the years he’s helped run the contest for AA Munro.

“We’ve had all manner of other shenanigans go on throughout these competitions, but this is the first time this has ever happened,” he said.

“A lot of these people don’t get much for what they do, which is putting their lives on the line, and so this is just a small way that we can go and contribute toward that.”

The contest ends Friday at 5 p.m. Smith’s Cove had more than 2,800 likes heading into the last day and seems poised to win.

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