Protecting our Community for 150 Years and Counting
Officials at East Jefferson Fire Rescue (EJFR) are inviting everyone to mark their calendars for October 8, 2022 and a very special celebration at Port Townsend City Hall of the fire department’s 150th anniversary.
The product of three separate fire departments — Jefferson County Fire Protection District #1 (Chimacum/Hadlock/Marrowstone Island), Jefferson County Fire Protection #6 (Cape George) and Port Townsend Fire Department — EJFR has proudly embraced their rich legacies. The city’s fire department was founded in 1872; it’s not only the oldest of the agencies within EJFR, but also one of the oldest in the western U.S.
Demonstrations and competitions as well as displays of fire equipment and apparatus, old and new, are among the activities being planned for October 8. A commemorative patch has been created and, soon, will be added to EJFR firefighters’ uniforms.
In addition to bringing the community together to celebrate the benchmark anniversary, the October 8 event is also expected to attract fire buffs and history fans from across the region. Officials chose the second weekend in October for its proximity to National Fire Prevention Week because protecting the community involves more than emergency response; it also involves preventing emergencies and preparing for them should they occur.
Initial funding for the celebration comes from community engagement funds that EJFR couldn’t use during the pandemic when most public events were suspended. Organizers plan to raise additional monies from sponsorships, community donations and sales of commemorative items such as t-shirts and plaques.
On this date…
Nineteen years ago on August 4, 2003, Aldrich’s Market was destroyed by fire for the second time in its history. The store first burned when a June 17, 1900 fire razed an entire block in Port Townsend’s Uptown District. According to an August 5, 2003 Seattle Times article, the store subsequently operated in several locations before settling into the 1889 structure on the corner of Lawrence and Tyler Streets sometime in the 1920s. The building was originally erected as a meeting hall for the International Order of Good Templars.
The 2003 fire was reported at 2:41 a.m. but the building couldn’t be saved as flames raced rapidly through the old structure. It took nearly 50 firefighters to keep the fire from spreading beyond the store, but they managed to protect all of the adjacent properties. The store was rebuilt in the same location but, this time, it was outfitted with a fire sprinkler system. When Aldrich’s caught fire in 2011, the sprinkler system kept the fire from destroying the building for a third time.
On July 28th in 1997, Medic 13 began providing paramedic-level care to patients in Port Ludlow, Chimacum and points in between. A cooperative effort between Jefferson County Fire District #1 (Chimacum) and Jefferson County Fire District #3 (Port Ludlow), Medic 13 was the first full-time advanced life support (ALS) unit in Jefferson County outside of the city of Port Townsend. Voters in the two districts approved an increase in their emergency medical services levy to fund the improved services. The skills of ALS providers help ensure good patient outcomes in the most serious situations such as cardiac arrest, heart attack, severe allergic reactions and critical injuries. Today, Fire District #1 is a part of East Jefferson Fire Rescue (EJFR), and there are at least two paramedic units on-duty every day. In the November general election, voters served by Fire District #3 will decide whether to build on this long history of successful cooperative efforts by merging into EJFR.
On June 17th 1900, an area spanning more than a block was leveled by fire in Port Townsend’s Uptown neighborhood. The man who first discovered the fire couldn’t use the nearest alarm box to report the blaze because, in those days when there were few telephones and no 9-1-1 system, that’s how alarms were reported. However, the boxes were locked — perhaps, in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms — and although there was a key hidden in nearby Aldrich’s, but the man didn’t know where to find it. He had to run to the bell tower to sound the alarm that summoned firefighters, resulting in a significant delay and much greater devastation. At their next meeting, the city council voted to put alarm keys in boxes with glass doors to prevent another disastrous delay in firefighters’ response.
When fire strikes, it’s vital for both firefighters and community members to act fast. Your job is to get out, stay out and call 9-1-1. Our job is to respond as quickly as possible with enough firefighters and equipment to safely and effectively do the work.
On this date, May 3rd in 1938, the Chimacum Hotel was destroyed in a fire. It appears that the hotel, built in 1888 -1889, stood on the northeast corner of the intersection of today’s Beaver Valley and Center Roads. According to records at the Jefferson County Historical Society, the hotel “prospered as a social hub” until the fire. The loss occurred ten years before Jefferson County Fire District #1 (JCFD#1) was founded in 1948. Prior to the advent of fire districts and fire departments, firefighting in most communities was limited to neighbors helping neighbors through bucket brigades. These efforts, while valiant, were often unsuccessful. As we look forward to the 150th anniversary, we’re also taking a look back at the history of the three agencies that came together to form today’s fire department.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the merger between JCFD #1 (Chimacum/Hadlock/Marrowstone) and Jefferson County Fire District #6 (Cape George) in November 2005. In January 2006, Port Townsend Fire Department joined via ILA to form East Jefferson Fire Rescue. The move improved levels of service across EJFR’s area by reducing administrative redundancies. Although the agencies now function as one, we remain proud of their histories and their accomplishments.
Photos courtesy of Jefferson County Historical Society.
On this date, April 6th in 1923, the W.H. Learned Opera House on Port Townsend’s Washington Avenue was destroyed in an arson fire. Despite intense heat from the blaze next door, the building housing today’s Bishop Hotel survived. The windows that faced the opera house were protected with metal shutters and the wall was constructed of non-combustible brick, likely preventing the flames from gaining a foothold. News reports credited these features and that era’s all-volunteer fire department with saving the Bishop. Today, firefighters’ work is much more diverse, complex and demanding. While dedicated volunteers continue to serve the district, paid staff is essential to meeting current response standards.
In this 1915 photo, a band is shown in front of the W.H Learned Opera House (left) and the Bishop Building (right). The Bishop’s fire-resistant features — brick construction and metal window shutters — were key to its survival when an arson fire consumed the opera house, just a couple of feet away, in 1923. Photo courtesy of Jefferson County Historical Society.
Taken in 1890, this photo shows the stage and orchestra pit at the W.H. Learned Opera House before its 1923 destruction by arson fire. Photo courtesy of Jefferson County Historical Society.
Alongside our celebration, the Jefferson County Historical Society is offering a fire themed educational series starting in September. There will be a new speaker on the first Friday of the month, starting with our own retired Assistant Chief Ted Krysinski.
Check back throughout 2022 for updates or follow our progress on facebook, Instagram (@EastJeffFirePIO) or Twitter (@EastJeffFirePIO).
More on the history of East Jefferson Fire Rescue available here.