History of the Pendleton Fire and Ambulance Department

Photo: Historical Fire Department PhotoThe Pendleton Fire and Ambulance Department (PFD) has a long history dating back to just after the formation of the city of Pendleton. Pendleton was settled in 1868 with the site chosen by voters of Umatilla County who wanted a site on the upper Umatilla River between Wildhorse and Birch creeks. In October 1879 citizen’s meetings are held for the purpose of forming a volunteer fire company and on October 25, 1879 the Pendleton Volunteer Fire Department was organized with 43 volunteers signing up the company was named “Protection Number One”. To begin with this company was probably a bucket brigade however, on April 24, 1880 A Mr. S. Rothchild arranged the purchase of a hand pumper from Willamette Fire Co. #1 for the cost of $1500. In July 1880 a water system is built for use of the fire company it consisted of several underground cisterns and wooden pipes fed from the river also in 1880 a hook and ladder outfit built locally at Marshall’s Machine Shop. Around this time a fire alarm system was built using seven large bells placed throughout the city. In July 1880 the oldest house in town burned to the ground due to a shortage of hose of 100’. On October 25, 1880 the City of Pendleton is incorporated and the president of the fire company, Lot Livermore is named mayor. In 1885 the decision was made to replace the hand pumper that had been dubbed “a man killer” with a steam engine and in December 1885 a new Ahrens Steam Engine arrives and is housed in the firehouse behind the courthouse of the time. In addition a new fire bell comprised of 40% silver and 60% bell metal is purchased to replace the old iron bell system.  Somewhere during this time a second fire company was formed in the city of Pendleton called the “Alert Company” and on July 4th 1888 the first annual hose cart races are held between Fire Protection #1 and the Alert Company. In 1899 two new fire companies are added to the department called the “Hook and Ladder Company” and “Clipper Company” the famous Clipper Company from Pendleton held the world record in hose cart racing in 1897 running 200 yards in 24 and 2/5 seconds. 

In 1901 there was 76 volunteers in the Pendleton fire Department and the volunteer chiefs were Frank Dunn, Joe Ell, W.R. Withee and John Vaughn. In 1913 the first motorized piece of apparatus was purchased it was a Seagraves triple combination fire engine. In 1913 after 34 years as an all-volunteer department the first paid department was organized with four paid men Cliff Bellinger was Chief of the department until 1915 when William Ringold was made Chief and held that position until 1931. In 1913 the first street alarm boxes were placed with 13 of them connected to the station.

Photo: Historical PhotoIn 1921 the first motorized pumper was purchased a 1921 Stutz with a 750 gallon per minute rotary pump and a 150 gallon booster tank this replaced the Seagraves chemical engine also in 1921 a fifth pain fireman was hired. In 1928 the Stutz was no longer operable due to mechanical problems and was replaced by a 1928 Mack 1000 GPM pumper with a centrifugal pump.

In 1931 Chief Ringold retired and was replaced by Calvin Hanlon who serves about a year and in 1932 in replaced by William “Blacky” Batchelor who serves for 35 years. In 1936 a GMC 500 GPM pumper was purchased which was built by Howard Cooper of Walla Walla.

In 1942 the bell alarms are replaced by three sirens located at city hall, Round-Up grounds and the VFW hall. In 1947 three new trucks are purchased from the federal government, two 500 GPM pumpers and a International high pressure truck also an 85 foot aerial ladder truck is ordered.  In 1948 the alarm sirens are replaced by air horns.

In 1950 a Pirsch aerial ladder is delivered with a cost of $24,000, in 1954 a Federal 750 GPM pumper was purchased and in 1956 a rescue truck was purchased. In 1959 a new fire station was built at 911 SW Court, this station is still in use today and serves as the main station and headquarters of the fire department with the opening of the new station several new firefighters were hired

In 1960 a Cardox crash truck is purchased for aircraft fires and the first fire department radio system is purchased it has one base station and receivers in the firefighter’s homes.  In 1967 Chief Batchelor retires and is replaced by Virgil “Butch” Boyd.

In 1972 after a fatal house fire Station #2 is built at 1200 Southgate and the department becomes the Pendleton Fire and Ambulance Department also in 1972 a new fire engine is purchased.

Photo: Historical Fire Station PhotoIn 1980 Chief Boyd retires and is replaced by R.D. Hopper. In 1985/86 two new 1500 GPM Seagraves pumpers are purchased these engines are still in service as reserve trucks in 2012. In 1986 a 1976 Seagraves aerial was purchased from Oak Ridge and was in service until 2005 when the current aerial was purchased.

In 1998 Chief Hopper officially retired but served for several months until John Fowler was hired as Chief in 2000. Chief Fowler served until 2010 and Gary Woodson was hired in November 2010 as Chief. In 2010 the Pendleton Fire and Ambulance took back responsibility for the Airport Fire Station which has been run over the years as both a separate department and by the fire department.

Material for this glimpse of history was contributed by Ret. Captain Randy Wells.