EJFR officials set date for 150th anniversary celebration 

On this date…

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.

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. While many of the details are still being refined, the date is set and so is the organizers’ commitment to putting together an event that celebrates the fire department as well as the communities it serves.  

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. There will be more leading up to the celebration, too;  organizers are putting together activities for all ages, designed to generate excitement and increase knowledge of local history as well as emergency prevention and preparedness.  

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.   

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.