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First 100 Years of Aberdeen Fire Department

Welcome to the Aberdeen Fire Department Web site. We have included this page as a brief overview of the first hundred years of service to our citizens. Thank you to former Fire Chief Dave Carlberg for his contributions to this review. Enjoy!

Note: Photos courtesy of Jones Photo Historical Collection. To view more images from their wonderful library we encourage you to visit their site using the search phrase “Aberdeen Fire Department

Modest Beginnings

Aberdeen has grown from a small town, protected by a Volunteer Fire Department, into a larger city that is protected by today’s highly trained, professional fire department. It had its beginning in October of 1890 with the consolidation of the Pioneer and Wishkah Hose Companies and the Relief Hook and Ladder Company into the Aberdeen Volunteer Fire Department. Today the department recognizes 100 years as a professional department.

circa 1903In late 1907 there were a number of internal conflicts occurring between the city, its fire department and the business community. Organizationally, things were a bit different in that time. In addition to its roster of active firemen, the department had a roll of businessmen who acted as honorary firemen who also contributed financing for the department. Their role had a huge influence in the internal workings and politics of the department and in turn they expected to receive better efficiency and the protection of a 1st. class fire department. Keep in mind that during this time “Black Friday” was still fresh in the minds of many people, especially the downtown business merchants.

From Volunteer to Professional

The first professionalized fire department was organized and created 100 years ago this month by the Aberdeen city council on January 16th, 1908. That day, the Aberdeen Bulletin reported that rumors on the street were circulating that Mayor Eugene France would appoint a dark horse as fire chief and no longer continue with the current volunteer department and it”s Chief Joe Graham. Graham who was very unhappy at the thought of change began circulating a petition recommending himself to continue as chief and to keep the existing system as is. In the end that was not the case.

On that night an ordinance was introduced that eliminated the former volunteer department and created a new professional one that would provide for a number of paid and some partially paid employees. Appointed by Mayor France and confirmed that very night by the city council was Aberdeen”s very first career Fire Chief, Adam Schneider. He officially started on February 1, 1908 and is monthly salary was $100 per month. Names like Perry Silvey, Chas H Blossom, Authur Plympton and Frank Law were some of the very first paid Aberdeen Firefighters. One name on the original paid firefighter roster was William H. Tamblyn. Tamblyn would go on to become Aberdeen”s second career chief in 1911 and would serve as chief until 1934.

The first work schedules had crews working 24-7 with only a couple of days off each month. Firefighters were allowed to leave the station for meals and family time for a few hours each day. Just prior to the 1920″s, the department went to a two-platoon system that worked around a 10 &14 schedule. One shift worked a 10-hour day while the other worked 14-hour nights. This eventually led to the current three-platoon system around mid 1940 in which firefighters work a 24-hour on duty and 48-hour off schedule. The Civil Service system which afforded firefighters some job protection was enacted by the city council in 1932.

Initially, firefighter training was “on the job” experience, courage, and a lot of luck. By 1950, formal training had started to become mandatory and all firefighters had to successfully complete a one-year civil service probation period. Today the majority of the training is mandated by the state and must be accomplished annually.


As the City grew, increased hazards required more specialized and up-to-date equipment. The fire department initially worked with a hand drawn pumper affectionately given the name “old tiger”. In addition to tiger, a horse-drawn 1902 Metropolitan steam pumper extra first size (1100 GPM), a horse drawn ladder truck and a chemical/hose wagon were later added. During the horse drawn era, “the hitch” was practiced and trained on daily and what a sight it was.

circa 1903

A big gong would strike three times and with the first tap the room was a flood of light. Three stall doors would open and as many horses with names like Prince, Jim and Stockings would dash out and take their places under their swinging harnesses. Collars were thrown, lines snapped in and the driver would take his place in the seat, simultaneously pulling a rope and pressing a lever with his foot. The big doors in the old city hall station would swing open; the harness hangers would release and fly up to the ceiling and off they would go. The engine, ladder and hose companies could usually push off in less than 45 seconds.

In keeping with the growing requirements of the city, the department began purchasing its first motorized equipment. By 1915, the last of the horse drawn equipment was retired and the department became entirely motorized. This trend has continued and today the equipment is all of the most current design. From 1966-82 there was one first-line fireboat that was in operation at the department. The craft was kept on a trailer and quartered at Station 2 in South Aberdeen. Pumping capacity was over 2000 GPM.

In the mid 1920″s the department had 3 stations and approximately 40 Firefighters protecting 10.5 square miles of city. The headquarters station was located within city hall at Market &I Streets. Station 2 was located at its current location at Curtis &Clark in south Aberdeen, but faced Clark St. Station 3 was placed at Heron &Garfield in the west end where the Aberdeen Water Department is now situated. By the late 1940″s, the number of stations was reduced from 3 to 2 by the elimination of the west end station.

Water Supply for early firefighting at first were pits or wells being dug that allowed them to fill with salt water. One pit was near Heron &I and another in the alley between Heron &Wishkah on G St. A few years later, a steam pumping station on River St. provided for a water pipe to supply water on Heron St. between K &F St.

Aberdeen Fire Dept

The cities population of the protection area was 20,000 in 1950 as compared to 16,500 currently. The department now serves areas outside city boundaries with Fire and EMS service. One of the greatest assets to fire ground safety and efficiency came with the advent of two-way radios. Previously, fire crews had to check in through telephones or use the fire alarm telegraph system to communicate and inform the alarm office of their status and movement. With motorized equipment, fire chiefs were now arriving on scene in a timely fashion, but not much else had changed. Orders were still being shouted through trumpets or being delivered by runners. By 1950 2-way radios were common. In the 1970″s, the use of portable hand-held radios added even more efficiency and safety for fire ground crews. By 1973, implementation and use of better protective clothing, lighter weight hose and couplings; and replacement of the old filter masks with self-contained breathing apparatus was completed, further increasing safety and efficiency.

In 1972-73 the first Fire Department Emergency Medical Services Task Force was formed to investigate and report the feasibility of transporting patients by fire departments. Dr. Juris Macs was instrumental in its formation. In 1973 the department responded to 292 aid calls. Today the number is over 4,500.

 Paramedic Services

In the mid 1980″s the department began to certify and train its first paramedics with former firefighter Dr. Dan Canfield becoming the departments very first. For the first time, all firefighters are now certified in basic emergency medical response and care to supplement the existing paramedic crews. The total number of responses has continued to increase. In 1954, the department responded to 674 total calls for service. Today, the department responds to nearly 5,500 annually.

In the 1980″s the adoption of a structured incident management system allowed for even more efficiency in command and control. The fire chief who had become a fire ground commander is now called an incident commander (IC) and must coordinate the functional areas under his command.

During 1993, our Fire Alarm Dispatch closed, thus eliminating the old “gamewell system” fire alarm telegraph and created the county wide E-911 system we have today. The alarm system had been in place since 1904 and originally provided for 11 alarm box locations strategically located in the downtown area and the big sawmills. The heart stopping gongs that once sounded in the fire stations have now become audible tones and warbles to alert the crews. Medical and CPR information is now given over the phone line prior to the aid crew arriving on scene.

An Eye to the Future

The Aberdeen Fire Department and the fire service in general have seen many changes in its 100+ years. Personnel protective equipment and self contained breathing apparatus continue to evolve and make firefighters safer. Enclosed crew cabs on apparatus offer a huge advantage over riding and standing on the tailboard of the engine while responding.

Compressed air foam for structural firefighting is now being used more and more and proves that bubbles are better than water. Automatic external defibrillators that anyone can use are now standard equipment on all apparatus. As Washington cities struggle with diminishing revenues due to property tax limitations, the next ten years will undoubtedly bring even more increased demands on the Fire Department to provide additional services. I wonder what the next 100 years will bring.