History

A History of the Mosier Fire Department

Jim Appleton,
Columbia Gorge Training Academy
18 March 2008
1.  INTRODUCTION
What follows is one person’s best attempt in a short amount of time at compiling a history of the Mosier Fire Department from records maintained by the department.  This is in response to an assigned project as part of the 2008 Columbia Gorge Training Academy basic fire training, under Assistant Chief Devon Wells of Hood River.
To my knowledge, there is no written history of the Mosier Fire Department.  Here and there in our files there are tiny tidbits in old newspaper clippings, and there is considerable (though fading) help from the memories of former firefighters and community elders.  But if anyone has gone back and systematically researched the primary material (minutes, agreements, correspondence, duty rosters, equipment logs, public archives, etc.), or even laid out a narrative in such a way that one could try to confirm or clarify it using primary documents, such an account has yet to surface in my research.
This compilation is by no means comprehensive.  I have not even tried to be complete in listing events, personnel, or equipment, but rather to lay out a handful of quantifiable data points which give a compact snapshot, and without exceeding a reasonable effort into this project as part of the training academy.  It is intended and hoped that further work by others can correct or amend, and fill in the many gaps.  Notably, I have not examined in detail all of the meeting minutes, nor looked at County archives or microfilmed records of the old Mosier Bulletin from the early 20th century.  Nor have I made much effort to locate and copy old department-related photos, mainly in possession of Willis Gholston, Gloria Kennedy, Iva Harmon, Ken Hudson, and no doubt others.  Currently, there is exactly one “historic” photo on display in the fire house, taken about 1990.  A bit of legwork here, resulting in even a handful of framed photos on display, could go a long way to raising pride and awareness of our service.
2.  FLASH FORWARD  –  CURRENT ORGANIZATION
What we call the “Mosier Fire Department” consists today of three separate entities:  Mosier City Fire Department, Mosier Rural Fire Protection District, and Mosier Valley Volunteers.
The City and Rural, technically separate departments and each with its own history, are taxing authorities and business entities only, set up to own equipment and facilities and to administer the business side of the respective corporations using public funds.
The City department’s tax base encompasses the city limits of Mosier proper, a relatively small area of about two square miles.  The Rural tax base encompasses all or part of twenty-four sections surrounding the city limits of Mosier and bounded by Hood River County to the west, the Columbia River to the north, and National and State Forest land to the east and south.
The Volunteers are the fire fighters, staffing equipment from both the City and the Rural as if the two jurisdictions were one.  Because the Volunteers overlap in this way, in practice, the three entities today function as one “department”, although that hasn’t always been the case.  Many of the challenges facing the current collective “Department” can be traced back quite a way in the evolution of this organizational structure.  Who pays for what?  Whose equipment goes where?  Is there a single coordinated mission for the separate districts and, if so, how can goals be established and met?
Today the City Department facilities consist of a metal heated three-bay storage building on Third Avenue at Washington Street.  Next door, at 208 Washington Street, the office of the Volunteers currently shares a small building with City Hall (this building, dating to the early 1960’s was at one time the only fire station in town — the single fire truck was parked in what is now the Volunteer’s office, and meetings were held in what is now the City Hall).
The Rural District owns two fire stations.  The earliest of these, dating from the late 1960’s, is a three-bay metal heated storage building on State Road (formerly Pioneer Road) just east of Carroll Road.  Rural Station #2, on State Road between Dell Rd and Walker Farm Rd, is a two-bay storage building built around 1990.
Much, much more can be said about evolution of “culture” in the department, now and in days gone by, and challenges facing our organization.  As a trainee, I would say the big-picture question at the moment is whether and how we as an organization can or should outgrow an entirely admirable seat-of-the-pants spirit of self-reliance (and meager budgets reflecting those priorities), harking back to many decades in which no one in Mosier trained to fight fire, one just showed up when the need arose and did what had to get done.  Time will tell the outcome of that evolution.
3.  SOURCES
Department records consist of file folders and old binders kept in three filing cabinets in the office at 208 Washington Street.  The quality of record keeping has been uneven.  I am unable to locate anything at all prior to 1960.  City Department records, if they ever existed, are not currently in the fire office files, and the current City Recorder is not aware of a separate archive stored elsewhere.  There are separate records for the Rural and Volunteers, and it’s not always clear which entity’s meeting or notes are reflected in a given document.  In the following timeline, I’ve indicated the source of each data point as best as it can be identified.  Again, I’ve tried to do this exclusively with Fire Dept., records, but in a few instances oral accounts of the early years seem helpful, if unconfirmed.
4.  TIMELINE
— 1914:  Possible founding date of an early department
(source:  painted wooden placard in the City station reading “Mosier Fire Dept. 1914″, unknown date, likely 1970’s or later)
— late 1910’s early ’20’s:  horse-drawn pumper
(source:  recounting of family oral history, Dwaine Blanchard, b. 1932, as told 2008)
1919:  A single fire event destroyed much of downtown Mosier
(source:  “A History of Mosier”, undated c. 1998, compiled by Jan Leininger;  [LINK NO LONGER WORKS] http://www.wasco-history.r9esd.k12.or.us/comm/mosier/history4.html#business )
— 1920’s:  “Fire Hall” indicated on map at Third Avenue and Washington Street, approximately the same location of the present City station (source:  undated map titled “Old Time Businesses c. 1920″, compiled c. 1998 by Jan Leininger at [LINK NO LONGER WORKS] http://www.wasco-history.r9esd.k12.or.us/comm/mosier/map1.html)
—  1946 – 1950:  department loosely organized, mainly untrained volunteers responding as needed to a given emergency (largely wild land fires), using hand equipment (source: oral account, Dwaine Blanchard, b. 1932, as told 2008)
— May 1947:  possible founding date for a formal department, consisting of ten men and two trucks (source: undated history, possibly c. 1960, in old binder of Volunteer meeting minutes)
MEMBERS:
Claude Berthold (chief),
Gerald Herman,
Joseph Herman,
James Mortensen,
Hugh Herman,
Dwaine Blanchard,
Don Evans,
Lloyd Bailey,
Harold Holste,
Kenneth Evans.
EQUIPMENT:
1945 International One-Ton pick-up with 200′ x 1.5″ hose
1951 Willys 4x, 200 gpm pump, 300′ x 1.5″ hose, 250′ x .75′ reel, 160 gal booster tank
— October 1957:  Wasco County Fire Zone 2 formed, Gerald Moser, Chief
This jurisdiction encompassed a huge area including Mosier.  Its one fire company in The Dalles offered little protection to the taxpayers of Mosier.
— 2 May 1960:  Emmet Maine, current City Chief
(source:  “Fire Dept. Reorganized” at beginning of binder “Meeting Minutes”, Rural files)
— 2 May 1960:  Mosier District formed as a sub-unit of portions of Wasco County Fire Zone 2.
Tax payers Executive Committee appointed by Wasco County Court:
Dick Gove
Lee Gove
John Barr
M.B. Troxel
Earl Molesworth
Bob English, temporary Chief
(source:  “Fire Dept. Reorganized”, at beginning of Rural files)
[DISCUSSION:  This “Mosier District” is distinct, though in some ways the predecessor to, the current Mosier Rural Fire Protection District.  The boundary of the Mosier District Zone 2 apparently never encompassed much more than fifteen square miles, mainly east along Route 30.  The early District apparently overlapped an existing fire department in the City of Mosier and, though not entirely clear from the documents, may have been intended to supersede and replace the old City Department.]
— 4 May 1960:  “In our efforts to improve protection for the Mosier District Fire Zone 2 we find a great deal of confusion between the responsibility of the City and Zone 2 and some clash of personalities”
(source:  Walter Carte, Wasco County Commissioner, to Leland Gove, Mosier City Council, Rural files)
— 1960:  undated memo from Wasco County Fire Zone 2 Chief Moser to Dick Gove, noting that Zone 2 taxes in the Mosier area total $314.37, “not enough money to provide protection”
— 2 December 1962:  Public meeting called to organize the new Mosier District Zone 2
(source:  meeting notice in Rural Board file)
— 1 January 1963:  First meeting in new station at 208 Washington
(source:  meeting minutes, Rural Board files)
[DISCUSSION:  From conversations with Bill Reeves and Emmet Maine, it’s apparent that this building was constructed to house a truck on loan from the main company in the Dalles.]
— mid- 1965:  Wasco County Judge James Hunt orders the elimination of the Zone system of fire protection, effective 30 June 1966.
(source:  correspondence, Rural Board file)
The reasons given:
Zones poorly serve outlying areas
Insurance rates not lowered since Zones can be disbanded by court order
Fire districts proving to be a much better organizing tool elsewhere in the area
(source:  Rural Board minutes)
— 1 July 1966:  formation of Mosier Rural Fire Protection District
(source:  Rural Board minutes)
— August 1966:  meeting called to organize Mosier Rural Fire Protection District
Dick Gove, first Rural Chief
two trucks purchased at $150 each, from Zone 2:
1946 Dodge Power Wagon, 120 gpm pump
1944 Chevy 6 x 6, 500 gal tank, 400 gpm pump
(source:  Rural Board minutes)
— February 1967:  County tax levy to the Rural District: $687.98
(source:  Rural Board minutes)
— 16 April 1967:  First annual Smorgasbord
$281 gross receipts, $67.71 net profit
to benefit the building fund for a Rural station
(source:  Rural Board minutes)
— 11 July 1967:  Willis Gholston, current City Chief
(source:  meeting minutes in Volunteers file)
— 6 January 1969:  (first?) Contract between City and Rural
(source:  Rural Board files)
— 20 May 1975:  Manvil Troxel, current Chief
(source:  letter to Wasco County Judge Hugh Elder, Rural files)
Chief Troxel expresses frustration at not qualifying for surplus equipment due to apparently shifting requirements for eligibility, saying Mosier FD is getting the “run-around”
— 1 July 1976:
four Rural trucks:
Dodge Power Wagon
Studebaker half-ton pick-up with pump and booster
surplus Army tanker, 1,500 gal
surplus Army tanker, 750 gal
two City trucks:
American La France pumper
Chevy Half-ton
(source:  “Fire Protection Agreement” Rural files)
— 2 December 1976:
City Fire Dept tax levy $3,340
Randy Taylor, Chief
Six trucks:
1945 La France, 1,000 gal
three grass trucks
two converted Army tankers
Budget:
$900 firefighter insurance
$2,000  SAIF
$500 equipment
(source:  Elroy King, The Dalles Chronicle, from Volunteers file)
— September 1985:  First Responder team formed
Sixteen first responders
One EMT
appears to be spearheaded by Ann and David Yerges
(source:  Hood River News clipping, “EMS” file)
— 26 February 1987:  Old Mosier School fire.  Balloon frame building built in 1904, condemned for school use in 1917 and converted to four residential apartments in 1920.  Fire quickly penetrated the roof before crews responded, resulting in a purely defensive operation.  In a short time all that was left was a brick chimney.
Vic Hamilton, Chief
(source:  numerous newspaper clippings, “EMS” file)
— 12 August 1988:  Railroad fires.  Thirty to forty separate brush fires totaling 150 to 160 acres, originating at multiple locations along the railroad right-of-way between The Dalles and Mosier, caused by sparks from the exhaust of a westbound Union Pacific locomotive.  The largest of these fires began approximately one mile northeast of the town of Mosier, where the railroad passes beneath Interstate 84.  The Mosier fire grew to encompass over 30 acres, involving brush and mature pine and oak woods and spreading through the canopy.  Louis “Bud” Mohr, Sr., aged 60, a Pine Grove firefighter, died from a heart attack on the Mosier fire ground.  Two trailer homes were destroyed.  Mosier units reported to command under Otis Winchester, Wasco County.
(source:  numerous newspaper clippings, “EMS” file)
[DISCUSSION:  lessons learned include failure of radios and accountability, though protection wasn’t lost]
— 23 July – 1 August 2002:  Sheldon Ridge wild land fire, caused by lightning strike and fanned by strong west winds, burned 12,700 acres mainly on National Forest land just south of Mosier Rural Fire Protection District and threatening over 200 homes near The Dalles.  Mosier units responded in mutual aid throughout the ten-day conflagration, along side nearly 800 other firefighters from throughout the region.
Current Chief Dan Garcia was absent on vacation.
[DISCUSSION:  lack of coordination with command ultimately led to dismissal of Mosier units]
— 21 January 2008:  resignation of Chief Dan Garcia.  Bill Reeves steps in as acting chief.

UPDATE:

– 1 July 2008:  Jim Appleton approved as Chief

– 28 August – 2 September 2009:  Microwave Fire burns 1225 acres.  The fire began just before 9PM in the Pine Grove Fire District, at the microwave relay on Hood River Mountain, caused by an electrical fault.  By midnight, the fire had reached the west boundary of Mosier RFPD at 2175 Hood River Rd.  Mosier units stayed on the fire nearly 24 hours, when fire crews from around the state began deploying under the Governor’s conflagration order.  The City of Mosier was evacuated.  The fire reached its easternmost point just inside city limits in the parking lot of the Rock Creek sail park.  Four structures were lost — a yurt, a double-wide manufactured home, and two out-buildings.  At one point, the conflagration team included eight hundred firefighters, most of them on stand-by at Hood River County Fairgrounds in Odell.  Spot fires on the steep slope above I-84 continued to appear from time to time until late October.  The Historic Columbia River Highway State Scenic Trail remained closed due to rock fall until early December.

18 May 2010:  Election for formation of the Mosier Fire District.