220 Jewett Blvd, PO Box 218, White Salmon, WA 98672 | 509.493.2112
Sixty years later, FPD No. 3 is still going strong
Anniversary celebration this Saturday
FIRST HOME -- The first Fire District #3 fire station was located in Husum across the street from the current station, where the Department of Natural Resources is not located.
October 23, 2012
By BEN MITCHELLThe firefighting equipment and tactics may have changed over the years, but the passion has not.
Next month, Klickitat County Fire Protection District No. 3 will turn 60 years old and current Chief Chuck Virts has been poring over the district's voluminous records that chronicle the district's rise from its humble beginnings.
"We have more stuff than we know what to do with," Virts remarked.
Today, FPD No. 3 comprises around 50 square miles, three fire stations and 26 firefighters, but it started out a lot smaller than that.
Historically, the White Salmon Fire Department answered fire calls in the territory that now comprises FPD No. 3. According to a history of the district by the late Dick Smith -- one of FPD No. 3's original founders and its first assistant chief-- citizens north of the White Salmon city limits had decided by the early 1950s that they needed their own fire district after slow response times from the WSFD caused homes and other structures to needlessly burn.
A ballot measure on the formation of the district went to the people on Nov. 4, 1952, and received overwhelming support with 95 percent of voters approving the measure. On Nov. 20, 1952, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners signed a resolution that officially created the district.
Although there was now a district in place, little had actually changed. The WSFD still answered the fire calls and FPD No. 3 had no fire engine, no equipment and no fire station.
It wasn't until early 1956 that FPD No. 3 saw the arrival of its first fire engine: a 1934 Ford that had been retired by the WSFD and wasn't exactly in mint condition, with unfastened floorboards and an engine that desperately needed to be built. With no fire station in which to park it, the engine resided in the lube room of Smith's Husum service station, located where Wet Planet stands today.
In the early days, FPD No. 3 largely subsisted on the generosity of others, from in-kind donations of equipment from the WSFD department, to firefighters making purchases out of pocket, to community members who showed up with big appetites to ham dinner feeds the district organized to raise funds.
By the spring of 1956, the Husum Fire Department could boast ten members: Chief Clell Black, Asst. Chief Smith, Captain Homer Coulson and firemen Art Moore, Luther Olson, Alger Cox, Bud Aplin, Claude Black, Jim Patrick, and Leighton Armstrong. Soon they would get their first test.
On July 23, 1956, flames tore through the Hopp-DeWilde lumber mill in Gilmer Valley on what Smith wrote was a "record heat day with the temperature above 100." The WSFD vehicles were en route to the fire when they eventually succumbed to vapor lock and the day's heat. The FPD No. 3 fire engine picked up the stranded firefighters and Smith wrote that by the time they arrived at the mill, they had "firemen stuck all over our truck like flies on a cow pie."
The main mill was already a total loss but through the combined efforts of the WSFD and FPD No. 3 the planer building was saved.
Though commonplace back then, Virts noted that firefighters with FPD No. 3 today do not ride on the outsides of the vehicles.
"In the old days, firefighters rode on the tailboard of the apparatus, hanging on or maybe strapped on," Virts said. "That was as safe as it got. Today, fire apparatus cabs are fully enclosed and no one rides on tailboards or anywhere outside the cab."
The fire engines they rode on in the 1950s also don't hold as much water as the engines of today. Virts explained current engines hold anywhere from 500 to 1,000 gallons of water, whereas the engines from 60 years ago could only hold 200 to 500 gallons due to frame construction and smaller, more lightweight chassis.
Tactics and equipment have also changed. When FPD. No. 3 was in its infancy, firefighters used bulky, heavy hose made of double-jacketed cotton, wore lightweight cotton clothing and only wore rebreathing masks -- if they even wore anything at all. Now, firefighters wear breathable, flame-retardant clothing, self-containing breathing apparatuses, and use hoses made out of synthetic, lightweight material that shoot foam as well as water. Virts said that firefighting tactics have also evolved and that in the past, "firefighting was often defensive in nature, fighting fire from outside the building... when an aggressive interior fire attack may have been able to extinguish the fire."
Throughout Smith's 1997 narrative on the history of FPD No. 3 (which can be read on the district's Web site), the word "firemen" instead of "firefighters" is consistently used, showing how different gender roles were in the 1950s. Over the past 60 years, Virts said women became more and more involved in the district, quite literally "moving up the ladder."
"Women have always been involved with the fire district, first in strictly support roles, supporting their husbands who were volunteers," Virts explained. "Later on, women worked keeping the department records and acting as secretary to the commissioners. in the 1980s, women began moving into the fire service in roles related to fire fighting, apparatus drivers, captains and on up the ladder."
Today the roster has grown from ten men to 26 men and women and has grown from one fire station to three fire stations. The original Husum Fire Station was built in 1957 with material donations from area lumber mills -- including the Hopp-DeWilde mill that FPD No. 3 firefighters helped save. The first firehouse was converted into the current Department of Natural Resources field office that stands in "downtown" Husum on SR 141, right across the street from the current Husum station -- an old elementary school that was renovated in 1995. FPD No. 3's Cherry Lane Fire Station was built in 1977 and construction on the Mountain Brook Station located on Snowden Road commenced in Oct. 1990.
FPD No. 3 has also increased its services over the years. Medics provide basic life support services and operate the district's fully-equipped ambulance and brush trucks also aid in extinguishing wildland fires such as last month's Highway 141 fire -- the largest blaze FPD No. 3 has ever been a part of.
Though undoubtedly much has changed over time, Virts noted there are two constants for FPD No. 3.
"The first constant [is] the unending support of the district by the community and the volunteers who serve," Virts said. "The second constant is in the similarity of names on the volunteer roster. The first names change but the family names continue on. Names such as Aplin, Mitchell, Ladiges, Teel, and Krall to name a few. Klickitat County fire District 3 is these people, the old-timers, and the current generation. It seems to be in the blood."
Want more history?
Obviously the history FPD No. 3 is too large to fit even in this story. For more information, click on the "History" tab on FPD No. 3's Web site at www.kcfd3.com. There will also be "tall tales from the past" recounted during this Saturday's FPD No. 3 60th Anniversary Banquet. For more information check out the ad on Page 8 of this edition.