By Nancy Covert
Glen Spieth remembers the Jan. 13, 1981 fire in Lakewood. That was the day when Selden’s Carpets, Audio Tech and Underwater Sports were destroyed. Spieth, who was working in the building, couldn’t find the phone number to call the fire department. Even though the first engine arrived on the scene one minute after dispatch, the building was destroyed, with a $1 million loss. While bright red stickers, printed with the fire station’s number, were affixed to most area phones, since new phones had been installed in the businesses—minus those handy reference stickers—Spieth said he had trouble figuring out whom to call! It was pretty hairy, he added.
Remember the days when Lakewood residents dialed 588-5217 to report a fire?
Dialing 911 is a lot easier, yet that old seven-digit number is engraved in the minds of many residents who remember the original way to contact the fire department.
According to the just-published history of the Lakewood Fire Department, edited by Ed Hardesty, “building construction and lack of fire stops were a major contributing factor to the building’s loss.”
Draft copies of the department’s 70-year history (1940-2011) were distributed this past Tuesday evening to about 40 LWHS members. A few copies will be available at the museum headquarters on Mt. Tahoma Drive, said LWHS president Becky Huber.
Other major fires during the 80s included an arson fire that destroyed part of the Clover Park grandstands, and the “prank” fire set by a disgruntled CPHS student who poured gasoline on the gymnasium stage that spread to adjoining classrooms.
Those were just a couple of examples from Lakewood’s fire-fighting history, shared by Greg Hull, the department’s former Assistant Chief of Operations. He’s currently Fire Chief for the City of DuPont. Fire chiefs from Lakewood and University Place joined him.
Lakewood’s last fire chief, Ken Sharp, is the new West Pierce Fire & Rescue chief, while University Place former fire chief Mitch Sagers, is deputy fire chief in the newly formed organization.
Hull’s career with Lakewood Department spanned the years from 1969-2010, and he had numerous examples of fire fighting in the department’s early days, including fighting the blaze that destroyed the high school gymnasium.
His presentation included photos and equipment –even a display of the long-ago uniform worn by Lakewood firefighters—denim pants, shirt, and black shoes—and a blue “JC Penney” jacket—“the same kind worn by service station attendants”.
Hull plans to retain the jacket in his personal memorabilia collection.
There also was an interesting white ceramic ashtray, embellished with the words “Lakewood Fire Department.” Nowadays there’s a “No Smoking” Policy in effect at all stations.
Evolving from an all-volunteer organization in 1940 (then known as Pierce County Fire Protection District #2), the district was established to provide protection for what was known as the Lakes District.
The original firehouse, said Hull, was located on Gravelly Lake Drive on the site now occupied by B&B Glass, across from the high school.
In pre-technology days, the department used “call girls”—wives of the volunteer firemen, Hull explained—to notify firefighters about where a fire was located. In the early days, the department had about 259 calls a year; now they respond to more than 10,000 calls: 13,000 between the combined departments.
The local fire district, Hull added, has a Class 3 rating for response time. When it first formed, it had a Class 8 rating.
Emphasizing the department’s focus on regionalization—providing unified service to surrounding areas—Hull stressed that they “respond to the needs of the community,” adding that residents shouldn’t hesitate to “ask for help.”
Firefighters are trained in first responder service, hazardous material response, and work in cooperation with surrounding fire districts. Besides operating a marine response unit (on American Lake) the department currently is developing a similar unit near Chambers Creek. There’s also an extensive educational outreach program.
With approximately 216 firefighters and related personnel between the combined departments, Hull stressed that the department recruits people “with a commitment to public service.”
Lakewood’s fire department history can be viewed at Station #20, located in the basement at 10928 Pacific Highway SW.