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HISTORY OF THE OREGON FIRE DEPARTMENT

According to city records, Oregon’s first fire department was organized April 3, 1876.  An ordinance was passed by the city council and the mayor created the organization of the first fire fighting unit.

The new ordinance provided for the appointment of a chief fire marshal, an assistant fire marshal, engineers, hose men and hook and ladder men, as well as bucket men.  All were to be appointed by the members of the city council.

Included in the ordinance were regulations on the care and maintenance of fire fighting apparatus, location of fire department building, duties of the firemen and the powers of the fire marshal.

The ordinance also stated that the aldermen of the city were to be appointed “ex-officio” fire wardens and were to be present at all fires.  They were also given the power to inspect all building, manufacturing establishments and depository of ashes, etc.

Members of the early fire department were under strict rules. Each fireman must report to every fire and follow the orders of the chief marshal.  Any fireman refusing to obey orders was fined $2 for each offense and could be expelled from the force.  Residents of the town, who were not members of the fire department, still had an obligation when attending a fire.  They were subject to the orders of the fire marshal and his assistants.  Refusal to obey orders subjected the person to a fine of $5.

The fire equipment which was all hand operated, was stored in a building owned by W. A. Mix. A rental of $75 a year was paid.  The first authorized fire truck and pumper was a Model T Ford.  Incomplete records make the date of purchase inconclusive, but it is believed to be shortly before World War I.

In 1922, the city purchased an American-LaFrance truck on Reo chassis which was about the ultimate for its time.  From this time on the fire department rapidly advanced and was located in the city hall building on North 3rd Street

In 1926 a GMC tanker was purchased.  It was not until 1936 that a pumper was acquired and it was a Ford.  For its time, the Oregon Fire Department was one of the best equipped in the area.

In 1945 the firemen purchased a new GMC tanker from the E.D. Etnyre Company of Oregon and in 1948 a referendum was passed and an International American 500 gpm pumper was purchased.  In 1957 a GMC American pumper truck was purchased from the volunteers’ earnings from benefit fish fry stag nights.  This pumper truck carried 1,000 gallons of water and was built at E.D. Etnyre by the firemen.

Again in 1964 the firemen purchased a GMC step van auxiliary equipment truck.  In 1967 the city passed a referendum to purchase a new GMC Darley 750 gpm pumper truck for the city.  At the same time the firemen purchased a new GMC 1,200 gallon tanker from their earnings.  The tank was provided by E.D. Etnyre Company.  In 1968 the firemen purchased a Ford pickup truck to be used by the Oregon fire chief.

Being a city owned fire department, rural residents were required to pay for first calls.  In 1975 the charge was $150 for the first hour and $100 an hour thereafter usually paid by insurance.  Problems began as some rural residents did not pay and deficits increased to the city.

Also during this time, bordering communities were forming tax supported fire districts.  As they formed around Oregon’s rural area, rural residents on the outer boundary began to join neighboring fire districts.  Oregon Mayor Chris Martin and City Attorney Dave Smith saw this as an opportunity to establish the Oregon Fire Protection District.

In 1976 a successful referendum was held that established the district with James Rosenbalm as chief.  The first three trustees were Chrissie Myers, Donald Leary, and Dale Winterland.  The district’s first truck purchase was a 1979 Ford FMC 1,000 gpm diesel pumper with crew cab.

On November 2, 1983, a new fire station was purchased at 100 Washington Street from Charles W. Mongan at a cost of $369,578.

The new fire station was officially accepted by the trustees on August 23, 1984 and was dedicated on September 21, 1984.  District trustees held their first meeting in the new facility in September of 1984.  Appointed trustees at this time were Jim Rosenbalm, President; Ralph Gelander, Secretary; and Richard Little, Treasurer.  Evelyn Burright was office manager. Recent past trustees included Mike Long, Dave Hughes, Tom Seaworth..

Active volunteer firemen at this time were Fire Chief Garry Griffin and the following firemen: Donald Griffin, Mike Dvorak, Walter Janssen, Tom Seaworth, Jim Brown, Richard Rhoads, Mike Long, Bob Stone, Dave Jenkins, Reuben Barnhart III, Ken Maxwell, Don Heller, Terry West, Jim Egyed, Ed Wehmhoefer, Dave Landers, Brian Bauer, Randy Travis, Dan Miller, Raymond Hawn, Doug Colson, Joe Adrian, and Larry Janssen.

Oregon residents such as Lester Grimes, Paul Johnson, Burton Haas, Harold Carman, Joseph Stevens, Ralph Stiles, Chrissie Myers, Wendell Long, Donald Blumeyer, Elmer Mammen, Jim Rosenbalm, Garry Griffin and Don Heller have served as fire chief.

In 1993, to better serve the Chana area a two bay fire substation was built in that community.  The land for the station was donated by Bessie and Earl Canfield.

Compiled by Rich Rhoads 2013 from Evelyn Burright’s writings and conversations with former Chiefs James Rosenbalm and Garry Griffin and former Mayor Chris Martin.

 
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