Anniversary parade, festivities planned Saturday — 100 years later, Sequim firefighters have the same goal: 'Get the fires out'
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Sequim volunteer firefighters and city officials pose in 1925 with the used truck the town purchased for $250, paid for in part by community fundraisers, including dances and bake sales. —Photo from Clallam County Fire District No. 3 archives

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– A century ago, a fire in the east Sequim Prairie was brought under control by Fire Warden James “Henry” McCourt's crew, who used leather buckets to save a stand of state-owned timber and kicked off organized fire protection in Sequim.

The Aug. 15, 1914, fire recorded by the Sequim Press was the first deployment of the volunteer fire company and bucket brigade that had been officially formed by the infant city's council March 11.

Sequim celebrated its centennial as a city last October.

In the century since, firefighters from Sequim have upgraded from human-carried water carts, leather buckets and a large, single bell-alarm system to firetrucks, hydrants, ambulances and handheld radios.

“It's a little bit more advanced than it was then, but the goal is still the same,” Clallam County Fire District No. 3 Chief Steven Vogel said.

“Get the fires out.”

A celebration of Sequim's fire protection centennial is planned Saturday.

It will begin with firefighters from around the Pacific Northwest parading down Washington Street at 10 a.m.

Antique engines will be displayed, and a full slate of bands will add to the celebration from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Carrie Blake Park.

A “Burning Down the House” dance party will cap the celebration from 9 p.m. to midnight at 7 Cedars Casino, 270756 U.S. Highway 101 in Blyn.

The first piece of equipment purchased for Sequim's fire brigade was a fire bell purchased for $25.50 from Graham Fire Apparatus Co. on July 1, 1914, according to research done by Vogel.

The bell was installed in the belfry of Sequim City Hall, built that same year.

That original City Hall is now the home of A Dropped Stitch yarn store, 170 W. Bell St.

Eventually, the city purchased a 40-gallon chemical engine and a hose cart that were pulled by six to eight men.

The city built a shed next to City Hall to house the fire equipment and in 1921 turned that shed into a single-bay fire station.

The single-story station, with its wooden floor and cedar shingle roof, was built on Cedar Street for $125.

On March 23, 1923, the city joined the Washington State Board of Firefighters, and an official fire department was formed under Chief J.N. Otto.

A $42.25 siren was purchased later that year. The number of times the siren was blown indicated which of the four quarters of town a fire was reported in, and volunteers raced there.

In December 1923, the city bought a used Model T for the department at a cost of $250.

Purchase was funded through a series of dances, bake sales and the sale of the original fire engine for $50.

Now, the fire district has seven stations that respond to more than 5,000 calls a year from a 140-square-mile coverage area that ranges from Gardiner to Deer Park.

The department operates on a $6.5 million annual budget derived from a property tax levy.

Fire District No. 3 has 49 employees in various roles, Vogel said, and 79 volunteers who do everything from fighting fires to paramedics to aiding communications.

“My goal is to get that up to 100 volunteers,” Vogel said. “Volunteers do so many things for us and the reason we can be as successful at responding to emergencies as we are.”

Fire District No. 3 is one of a few fire departments in the country with the equipment and medic training to do lab work on some patients at the scene of an emergency, Vogel said, saving precious time in medical emergencies.

As for the next 100 years, Vogel was cautious not to make too many predictions about what firefighting will look like.

Some departments around the world are experimenting with trucks that spray steam into burning buildings to get more thorough coverage while using less water, and Vogel said they are looking at X-ray machines that will be able to take images of patients on scene and transmit them to hospitals for treatment suggestions.

He was sure about one prediction:

“If I'm still around, you better make me grand marshal of that parade,” he said.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 06. 2014 5:46AM
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