Fire report—effective July 31, 2015: According to West Pierce Fire & Rescue (WPFR) information, the combined fire districts (Lakewood, University Place and Steilacoom) have received 8,712 911 calls in 2015. That number, Jenny Weekes WPFR spokeswoman added, is “up between 8-10 percent.”
Most Lakewood residents are familiar with local museums at Historic Ft. Steilacoom on Steilacoom Blvd. and the Lakewood Historical Society in the Lakewood Colonial Center on Mt. Tacoma Drive. They may not know much, though, about the “History Room” at 10928 Pacific Highway.
It’s been eleven years since the one-time Lakewood Fire Department moved to its current Pacific Highway location. Its mini-museum that also opened in 2011 contains two rooms filled with fascinating, colorful history about Lakewood’s Fire Department since it began in 1940. Visitors interested in learning more about the fire department history, may visit on weekdays between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm.
The History Room features walls filled with framed copies of stories about the area’s big fires: the Tacoma Golf And Country Club’s 1960 fire, the fire at clover Park High School’s gymnasium, the fire at Martin’s Boat House on American Lake, as well as one about a McChord jet that crashed into a pond at Vista Orchard. Displays also include gear, firefighting equipment such as radio speakers, axes and nozzles, an ominous Darth Vader-looking mannequin, and a photo of the department’s first woman firefighter, hired in 2004. Then there’s “Squirt.”
“Squirt” you might guess, is a red plastic fire hydrant once used as part of the department’s fire education program that visited local schools. Then there’s the kid-sized fire engine.
Another corner is dedicated to memorabilia from Sept. 11, 2001. Visiting the History Room is a good way to learn about this little-known aspect of Lakewood history.
Lakewood’s department, originally known as the Tacoma Lakes District, became a fire protection district in 1940 (PCFPD #2). The department’s first fire station was in the Evans- Burke Garage (now B&B Glass) on Gravelly Lake Dr., across from Clover Park High School. In 1942, L. T. Caraway was named as its first chief, with Walt Evan, a volunteer, as his assistant.
In 1954, a measure was approved to expand the Lakewood fire department, adding four more stations: at Ardmore and 93rd, as well as in the Lake City, Tillicum and Southgate neighborhoods. In 1961, after the Lakewood Fire Department annexed additional land in the northwest area of its fire district, they purchased a site for a fifth fire station, located on Farwest Drive, about ten blocks north of the new Lakes High School.
Five years later the Department had grown to 14 full-time firefighters and 35 volunteers, and they were recognized as the first fire district in the state with a Class 5 rating—meaning residents enjoyed lower insurance rates. In 1969 the Department’s headquarters station was relocated from the Ardmore site to 5000 Steilacoom Blvd.
Through the next four decades, LFD continued to grow. In 2001, voters approved a bond issue to build a fifth station on Pacific Hwy, where the headquarters station was relocated, along with a fifth engine company.
This bond issue also allowed a major renovation of all of the other facilities, including the state-of-the-art training center on Steilacoom Blvd.
On March 1, 2011 Lakewood’s Fire Department (founded in November 1940) and University Place’s Fire Department (founded on March 4, 1941) officially merged to become West Pierce Fire and Rescue.
As far back as 1983, the two departments realized the benefits of regionalizing emergency services. That same year they joined with the Fircrest Fire Department to form Fire Comm, a regional 9-1-1 dispatch center. Today Fire Comm continues as a division of West Pierce Fire & Rescue providing and dispatch services to more than 400,000 citizens in 15 fire districts throughout Pierce County. The building is air-conditioned—a big plus on these hot summer days.