KINGSTON — When Herb Todd, a founding member of Suquamish Volunteer Firefighting Association, began serving his community more than 50 years ago, there was no such thing as 911 or radio contact.
There was no such thing as North Kitsap Fire & Rescue.
Suquamish, Indianola, Hansville and Kingston had their own fire districts — each with a rich history that was dusted off Saturday for yet another fire protection milestone.
More than 200 people came through NKF&R’s new flagship Station 81 to share in the nostalgia and celebrate the department’s most recent accomplishment at the department’s open house.
Beginning this month all three of its new stations will be open to answer emergency calls that now come in a matter of seconds from CenCom. Getting help today is as simple as 911.
The early days
Fifty years ago, volunteers would drop what they were doing to answer the call of the siren. People in trouble would break the glass on the nearest alarm box, trip the signal and wait for help to arrive. Todd said firefighters would meet at the Suquamish station once a week, work two or three days a week, and be on call 24 hours a day.
Although emergency calls from 1946 to 1974 were a fraction of the current volume of calls, firefighters still had plenty of work to do — namely keeping the alarm system functioning.
“We spent more time keeping that up that anything else.” Todd said.
He came out to Station 81, located on Miller Bay Road to see the new state- of-the-art building. He was impressed and a bit awed at the building, as were most people who attended a 1 p.m. dedication ceremony. Todd was accompanied by his sister in law, Meredith, whose family’s roots are intertwined with those of NKF&R. Her husband, father and five sons each worked for the fire department at one time or another. Her daughter Kathy is the first person you’ll meet on a routine visit to the station. She is receptionist for NKF&R headquarters.
The NKF&R board of commissioners held a special meeting to commission the Miller Bay Station 81, South Kingston Road Station 85 and Hansville Station 89. They then allowed people to tour the building.
Taking a break from rolling out the red carpet, fire commissioner Fernando Espinosa sits down in the lobby of the station and reminisces.
At about the time Todd left the Suquamish Kitsap Fire District No. 4, Espinosa was beginning his career. In 1973 he started as a volunteer firefighter and would later become chief of the department.
He remembers much of the same obsolete working conditions as Todd including being summoned by sirens on top of the fire station and using a telephone tree of sorts to notify fellow firefighters of the emergency.
“Hopefully someone wrote down where the fire was,” he said, so the others would know where to go.
The handwritten log books and other memorabilia of the earlier days fills two display cases in the entryway of the new station where Espinosa sits. Newspaper clippings, photos and other items offer newcomers to the area a glimmer of the past.
The fire lassies
One of the shining moments of the past 50 years was captured in the Seattle Daily Times as the “Fire Lassies” came to the rescue for Kitsap Fire District No. 5, Indianola.
The men would go to office jobs in Seattle and if emergencies occurred in Indianola, the women went to the rescue. One woman who attended the dedication was a member of the trailblazing firefighters.
Although she wasn’t quite comfortable enough to share her name, she wanted to share a few of her memories.
She served in the 1970s and later was inspired to became an EMT. She learned to drive the fire truck and performed firefighting drills alongside her male counterparts.
According to the Times account, they would often tell their husbands that dinner was on the stove, they were going to a fire.
“We were there when we were needed,” she said.
The Fire Lassies were no longer needed when District Five merged with Kingston in 1987. Then fire commissioner Peg West was a driving force behind the merger.
“The new building is marvelous,” she said at the dedication ceremony.
West, in the late 1980s took a petition door to door to start the ball rolling for the merger.
“I’ve always said we had the best training and the best attitude,” she said.
Former commissioners from former fire districts such as Hansville, Suquamish. Representatives from Port Ludlow, Poulsbo, Jefferson County Bremerton and Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue, and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office also attended the ceremony.
Young and older members of the community also braved the inclement weather to tour the station.
Tom Stokes brought his family to see the station, His two sons Tyler and Spencer also enjoyed their first visit to a fire station.
“It’s great,” Stokes said.