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Driving home history

Firefighter tracks down Langford’s first ambulance
The first aid cross is faded but legible on the back of the 1949 Buick Flxible

Capt. Brad Cambrey can see past the rust and mouldy upholstery — the 1949 Buick Flxible is a valuable piece of Langford’s history.

A tough whale of a car, what was Langford’s first ambulance has spent the past decade living in a field in Clearwater, B.C. Now it sits in a storage shed on city property, waiting for restoration.

Cambrey, a 26-year Langford volunteer firefighter who rescued the vintage vehicle last summer, plans to rebuild it from the chassis up. “It’s actually in remarkable condition. The frame is solid, the motor is intact, the tranny is intact,” he says. “It just looks ugly.”

As a hobby, Cambrey has spent years trying to track down Langford’s historic fire vehicles, which were often sold after their service life came to an end.

He found one old Langford engine on Galiano Island, which that fire department plans to restore. One was recently destroyed in a fire in northern B.C. Another old engine sits up-Island under a tarp at an undisclosed fire department, rusting in place.

“That was one of our first trucks. We still have the receipt,” Cambrey said. “But they don’t want to sell it back. We’ve had no luck.”

Many of the tips come from fire truck sales staff travelling the province, many who have  a keen eye for antique engines. But about two years ago Cambrey zeroed in on the city’s first  ambulance on a property in Clearwater, thanks to a Langford auto mechanic. Faded and barely legible “Langford” stenciled on the doors gave it away.

“I spent 10 years trying to get old vehicles back and I finally found one,” he said. “There was light at the end of the tunnel.”

After more than a year of negotiation and a promise to restore the car, in August Cambrey towed it home from the Interior.

He was surprised how well it held up to decades of use, first as hearse, then graduating to an ambulance in 1957 in Langford, before being sold around 1966.

At that time, fire and ambulance crews were one and the same, and the vehicle served largely rural communities between Saanich and East Sooke.

“The doors are on it, all the glass is intact, it’s drive train is intact. You can make out ‘Langford’ on both the doors,” Cambrey said. With a muscular straight-eight motor, power windows and an automatic transmission, he called it a car ahead of its time, and a valuable nugget of Langford’s history.

“It will be good for parades and special events, but more importantly for me and others, it’s a piece of history coming home,” he said.

Cambrey plans to form a new historical society to manage the restoration process and to fundraise. Volunteer firefighters have a wide range of skill sets, he said, and should be able to muster the know-how to restore the Buick back to mint condition.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but between (firefighters) and the community, I think we can pull this off,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a speedy project, but it’s a doable one.”

“It’s a good thing for the guys to work together on a project that has meaning for the department. It’s teamwork outside of the firefighter training stuff.”

If anyone has information on this vehicle or any other historic Langford emergency vehicle can email Cambrey at