With Thanksgiving just a week away a lot of people are thinking about what they are thankful for. One thing the West End can be thankful for is our volunteer fire departments. Neah Bay, Clallam Bay/Sekiu, Quillayute, Beaver and Forks, they respond at all times of the day and night and the only compensation is when we say thank you.
With two structure fires just this past week it is even more apparent how important these volunteers are to our communities. But our volunteer fire departments are hurting for volunteers.
In the early days of the Forks Fire Department, fire calls were received on a party line which got weaker as more lines were added. In the 1960s a fire phone system was installed.
Special phones were located at the fire hall, phone company, local stores and in homes of some of the volunteers. Each phone had a push button that set off the alarm at the fire station.
Most often over the years fire calls have been for small structure and chimney fires but on occasion the Forks Fire Department has seen some doozies.
On Nov. 19, 1976, one of the oldest and largest buildings in downtown Forks caught fire.
The Woodland Hotel was a three-story structure being used as a boarding house at the time. About 40 people were staying there when the fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. The Forks and Beaver fire departments worked together to rescue the occupants off the second and third floors with ladders.
Some people became anxious waiting to be rescued as the flames intensified and actually jumped hitting the ground running and they just kept going, so authorities were never really sure how many people were in the Woodland.
Although the building was a total loss there thankfully was no loss of life.
It was about five years later when the Forks Fire Department would once again be tested. In the early morning hours the Antler’s Hotel and Restaurant caught fire. Just a few feet away sat the Coast to Coast building, it would surely go up in smoke, too. As dawn broke the Coast to Coast was saved but the Antler’s was toast.
Over the next 20-plus years the Forks Fire Department volunteers continued their training and pre-planning on certain structures in the downtown area in the event of another fire. Then in September 2010 when the Olympic Theater caught fire the pre-plan went in to action saving the Chinook Pharmacy and the other structures in close proximity.
And the most recent fire that threatened downtown was just two years ago when the Rainforest Arts Center was lost.
With the population aging the fire departments of the West End really need new volunteers. It takes about two years of training for a volunteer to be ready. There are state classes paid for by the district and drills every Tuesday at the Fire Hall.
Our volunteer fire departments don’t just need volunteers to fight the fires, there also are other opportunities to help in other ways.
For more information about volunteering, call your local West End fire department.
According to the insurance industry more cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year and grease- and cooking-related claims more than double on Thanksgiving Day, compared with an average day in November. The culprit could be those turkey deep fryers, aka turkey’s revenge, that have caused some of the problem.
So remember to be careful in the kitchen this Thanksgiving and give our volunteer firefighters something they can be thankful for, a fire call free day with their families.