Fire District 6 History
For more than sixty years, the citizens living in the Hazel Dell, Lakeshore, Felida, Salmon Creek, Fairgrounds and Mount Vista areas of Clark County, Washington have been proudly served by the volunteers and paid professionals of Clark County Fire District 6.
In 1954, a house in the Hazel Dell area was lost to fire while awaiting a Department of Forestry flatbed truck to respond from the Yacolt area. Such a response was typical at that time, since there was no Fire Protection District in the Hazel Dell area, and the Vancouver Fire Department would not respond to fires outside of the city limits. Subsequently, members of the Hazel Dell Community Club and the Hazel Dell Grange met at the Totem Pole Restaurant in Hazel Dell to discuss the formation of a local Fire Protection District.
In April of that year, George Goodrich, a member of the Hazel Dell Coordinating Committee, advanced the guarantee fee needed to form a Fire Protection District. Volunteers circulated petitions within the boundaries of the district, an election was held, and the voters approved the formation of Fire Protection District 06; a municipal corporation and political subdivision of the State of Washington. On the same day, the voters also approved the formation of Fire Districts in the Sifton and Orchards areas which would become Districts 4 and 5 respectively.
Three Commissioners were elected to oversee Fire District 6. They were Harold Sandstrom, Chair, Oscar Beall, and Harry Roelfs. These men, in addition to their duties as Commissioners, would also serve the District as some of it’s first volunteer firefighters. The Commissioners would serve six year terms on a staggered basis, with an election occurring for one of the positions every two years. Commissioners Sandstrom, Beall, and Roelfs would serve as the Fire District’s Commissioners until the early 1970’s.
A call was put out for volunteers firefighters, and before apparatus could be secured, sixty-five men had come forth to commit their time and effort to the community. These new volunteer firefighters elected Ray Furrer as their first Fire Chief.
The first apparatus of the newly formed District were purchased in November of 1954, and included two used fire engines. Engine 1 was a 1940 USA pumper that was originally built by the U.S. Army at Ft. Holabird, Maryland. Engine 2 was a 1950 cab-over Chevrolet fire engine.
Many volunteers and local businesses donated hours of labor and supplies to recondition the equipment and ready them for service. Since the Fire District did not have a formal fire station yet, several sites were utilized over the next two years to house the apparatus. They included an auto repair business, Andy’s Garage, located near Highway 99 and 78th Street, a site several blocks north of that on Highway 99, and a site on 88th Street. With two fire engines and three fire hydrants in the District, service was begun to the immediate area.
The first official call recorded for Fire District 6 was on January 10, 1955, and from the time service began in November of 1954 through December of 1955, there were approximately 40 fire calls recorded. Equipment was minimal at the time and technology quite unsophisticated. Retired Chief Richard Streissguth recalls that in the early days, the Fire District had no fire alarm to notify the volunteers of calls.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) the fire engine didn’t have a muffler on it, and when it was started up it was so loud that most volunteers in the area could hear it and responded to the station automatically. Eventually, the system was replaced with a telephone notification system, an audible siren alert system in the 1960’s, and finally a more modern tone alerting system during the late 1970’s.In 1955, the volunteers of the Fire District elected fellow volunteer Max Rich as the second Fire Chief. However, Chief Rich, who worked full time for the Washington State Patrol, only served for three weeks because he was promoted and transferred out of the area. Volunteer Bob Janssen was voted to replace Max Rich as the District’s third Fire Chief.
Also in 1955 the District’s first rescue/aid vehicle was created from a Dodge utility truck donated to Fire District 6 by Pacific Northwest Bell. Several organizations donated labor and supplies to convert the vehicle, and it was placed in service at Station 1 as Unit #648.
The year 1956 was an important one in the life of the District. On January 1, the District was accredited by the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau, which contributed to the reduction of fire insurance rates for citizens living in the area. That accreditation and rating would continue to improve over the years with the addition of services and capabilities.
The District’s first fire station was built on adjoining properties donated by both the Hazel Dell Community Club and Gale Marshall, a local businessman. The property was located at 409 NE 76th Street, next to what was then the local drive-in theater. Volunteer labor and donated materials were utilized in the construction of Station 1, which was a 50’X50′ single- story concrete block building.
On June 9, 1956, an open house was held to show off the new 2,500 square foot fire station. In addition to the new fire station, a fund-raising dance was held that spring, the proceeds of which were used to purchase a resuscitator, protective clothing, and boots for the volunteer firefighters.
The Fire District’s first expansion took place in 1958 when the Salmon Creek/Sara area (NW 41st Avenue and 179th St.), and the lower Hazel Dell Avenue area requested fire protection services from District #6. With this came the addition of the District’s second fire station, Station 2, which was located in the Lakeshore area on NW 36th Avenue just north of 122nd Street. One of the engines housed at the new station was built from a used flatbed truck that had been purchased from the Oregon Department of Transportation. It was converted into a fire engine with a water tank and a front mount pump. Unfortunately, the pumper was later struck and destroyed by a train while being used to fight a grass fire. It was replaced by an engine from a Spokane manufacturing firm with insurance settlement money from the destroyed fire engine.
Also in 1958 Jack Smythe was appointed Fire Chief by the Board of Commissioners. The Chief’s appointment by the Commissioners took the place of popular vote by the volunteer firefighters. The following year, as District activity and business increased, it became evident that the job was becoming too big to be handled on a strictly volunteer basis. The Board of Commissioners authorized the creation of a part- time Chief position, and Jack Smythe began serving in the District’s first paid position.
The 1960’s would usher in many new changes for Fire District 6. In 1962, the District took delivery of its first new fire engine, a red 1961 Dodge front mount pumper built by the Roney Co. in Portland, Oregon. In addition, the District opened its third fire station, Station 3, in the Salmon Creek area. At that time, Station 3 was located in the area of what is now the C-Tran Park and Ride. It would later be moved further West due to the Interstate 5 expansion project. In 1964, another fire engine, a 1000 GPM Ford pumper, was acquired. As the District passed the mid-point of the decade, call volume and department activity increased. Until then, the District had been comprised entirely of volunteer firefighters. Glenn Kelly, one of the originating volunteers, was hired in 1967 as the District’s first full time firefighter, working weekdays only. Additional paid firefighters were hired in 1968, one of which was Captain Gary Laster, who retired from the Department in 1998. The paid full-time firefighters of District 6 then organized Local 1805 of the International Association of Firefighters, which remains the representative body for the professional firefighters of Clark County Fire District 6 to this day.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, growth in the area continued rapidly and call volume increased steadily. In 1974, a new Mack fire engine was purchased, and Station 3 was built at its current location at 1200 NE 134th St.
In 1977, Richard Streissguth, who had been a volunteer with the district since the beginning, assumed the role of part-time paid Chief with thirteen paid firefighters under his command.
Chief Streissguth only maintained a part-time position as Chief since he was still employed full-time with the Washington Department of Corrections. 1977 also saw the addition of the final area to the District, which was the area west of Fruit Valley Road. The following year, Chief Streissguth oversaw the remodel of Station 1. The addition of a second story added much needed training and dormitory space, and the main level was enlarged to handle larger fire apparatus.
In the Fall of 1980, the Board of Commissioners asked the voters of the District if they wanted to support a new program of advanced life support services through the use of firefighter/paramedics. The voters approved this program and four firefighter/paramedics were added to the ranks.
A new rescue vehicle, #641, was placed in service and used as the District’s first paramedic response vehicle.
In addition to this, the early 1980s brought the 911 system to Clark County and Fire District 6 upgraded its complement of apparatus with a seventy-five foot Mack Aerialscope platform truck. These two additions improved the District’s insurance rating to a Class 3. Also in 1981, Chief Streissguth assumed a full-time role as Fire Chief with the District. Station 2 was remodeled in the very early 1980s, with the addition of a new truck bay. In 1984, the District purchased two mini-Mack pumpers.
The establishment of the Maritime Fire and Safety Association (MFSA) in late 1983 provided a coordinated plan of response for shipboard fires and emergencies on the lower Columbia River. District 6 joined eight other fire agencies in two states to be available to respond to such emergencies.
Housing the firefighters and their apparatus was again addressed in the mid-eighties. The project of remodeling Station 3 was undertaken to enhance its livability. During the remodeling project, the crew was housed in a leased trailer on the grounds. The station currently houses Engine 63 and Engine 66.
In 1986, a new fire station was built in Felida to replace the cramped and outdated one. The new station, at 11600 NW Lakeshore Avenue, quarters Engine 62, Brush 62, Engine 65, and Engine 68. In that same year a new Ford type III ambulance unit was purchased to become the primary ALS response unit, and the next year brought a new Mack engine to further add to the number of apparatus available to respond to the District’s needs.
The 1990’s brought a new fire station, and a new Fire Chief to Fire District 6. In 1991, a new state-of-the-art fire station was constructed in the 8800 block of Hazel Dell Avenue. This new station, just 12 blocks north of the old Station 1, is a 14,000 square foot complex that will serve the Fire District well into the twenty-first century with modern safety enhancements, living accommodations, administrative space and training areas.
Engine 61, Squad 61, Rehab 61, and Air 61 are currently housed at the Hazel Dell station in addition to command vehicles and administrative staff. In 1992, a new Pierce fire engine was added to the apparatus fleet, replacing the older Engine 61.
The end of 1993, brought the retirement of Chief Richard Streissguth from Fire District 6, and Assistant Chief Brad Lothspeich was appointed Fire Chief and replaced Chief Streissguth in early 1994. Chief Streissguth continues to serve the Fire District in the capacity of Secretary to the Board of Fire Commissioners to this date.
District 6 joined five other agencies in Clark County in creating a multi-agency Technical Rescue Team (TRT) in 1995. An old Clark County Public Utilities truck with a hydraulically operated boom was reconditioned with many hours of painstaking labor, and placed into service as Rescue 62. Eventually the unit was sold and replaced with a trailer purchased with grant funds. The trailer and TRT are available to respond to special rescue situations throughout the SW region.
Two additional Pierce engines and a new rescue unit were added in 1996, ultimately replacing Engine 62 and Engine 63. Also in 1996, the 1987 Mack engine was refurbished and kept in service as a reserve engine. A new Rescue vehicle was purchased to replace the aging Medic 61. In 2015, the District bought two more engines to replace aging apparatus. As the District continued to grow a new fire station was built to replace Station 63 in Salmon Creek. The station opened in March of 2020. It is also how to the Districts first training facility complete with a training tower.
Statistically, the run volume in the District has grown at an astronomical pace. In 1955 the annual call volume was in the mid-twenties, compared to 268 in the mid-1970’s, and has continued to grow proportionally. However, it should be noted that from 1954 through the mid 1970’s, responses to calls were primarily fire responses since emergency medical services (EMS) through the Fire District was not offered.
It was evident to the District that an important element of service was missing for the citizens of the district, and thus, the inception of the delivery of emergency medical services was born. Even though the number of fire related calls has more doubled since 1980 from 315 to 747 in 2002, the number of EMS calls still greatly outnumber the fire related emergencies reaching 3,530 in 2002. Annual call volume for the District has steadily increased over the years to 5,290 in 2009 and over 8,880 today. Personnel required to serve the District’s expanding call volume has approximately doubled since 1990, and now includes over 65 paid officers, firefighters and firefighter/paramedics and six support staff.
The District partners with Clark County Fire & Rescue to operate the Public Safety Complex on Clark County Fairgrounds property. The Complex also houses the Clark County Sheriff West Precinct and the Clark County Fire Marshal’s staff.
Along with the eight Fire Chiefs that have served with Fire District 6 over the past sixty-six years, it should also be noted that there are a group of individuals that have proudly led the Fire District in the role of Fire Commissioner. The original Commissioners of Harold Sandstrom, Oscar Beall and Harry Roelfs were the forefathers of future leadership that included Mike Collins, Ronnie Beems, Chuck Scherer, Orville Seifert, Clyde Clemmer, William VanNostran, James Larson, Marcus Reed, James Jakubiak, Dick Spring and the current Board of Commissioners for Clark County Fire District 6, Chris Pfeifer, Casey Collins and Brad Lothspeich.