Retired firefighter recalls days on the line

PORT TOWNSEND — In June 1956, Ed Lindsey passed a civil service exam and was hired to be the third paid firefighter in the city of Port Townsend.

Less than a month later, the other two employees left, catapulting Lindsey into the senior position.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the day Lindsey joined the Port Townsend Fire Department, where he went “straight up the ladder” to become the city’s first paid assistant fire chief.

Although his career was cut short by illness, Lindsey is a living link to the days when a firefighter’s main job was to actually fight fires.

“Three-fourths of the calls now are medical,” he says.

“We had no medical service whatsoever — we didn’t have the facilities to transport.”

Lindsey, 75, has a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and photographs from his career, but he doesn’t need them to recall the names, dates and details of the major fires he fought.

Among them is the blaze that destroyed the Hill-Landis Building on Water Street, in the still partially empty block where the Green Eyeshade is.

The call came in at 2 a.m. on Dec. 28, 1958, Lindsey recalls.

“It lit up the night,” he says of the flames.

And it almost took the life of a firefighter.

Lindsey vividly remembers the moment when he and Skip Lewis watched helplessly as a wall collapsed and came crashing down on Ted Baker.

“We saw the bricks fall,” Lindsey says.

“We uncovered him, put him in the back of Skip’s truck and rushed him up to St. John’s Hospital. He lived, but was on light duty when he returned.”

The downtown fire was the scariest one he ever fought, Lindsey says, because could have taken a whole block with it.

As it was, the pump truck worked faithfully for three days and two nights, he says, drawing salt water out of the bay.

Afterward, the Bremerton fire chief commended the Port Townsend Fire Department for a wonderful “stop,” Lindsey says, and told the department he didn’t know how the fire didn’t take out the whole downtown.

“You always want to get ahead of your fire and keep it from traveling,” Lindsey says.

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