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West Side Career Volunteer Fire Department
Located in Hood River, Oregon
History Researched, and written by: Keith Clark

The Early Years
In the early 1940's, prior to WW II, there was a lot of building going on in the area. Residents saw the need for fire protection, and like other communities wanted to reduce their insurance costs. A small group organized by W.T. "Bill" Hukari formed a citizen's fire brigade in the Rockford area of Hood River. It all centered around the Barrett Store, which was owned and operated by Ralph & Beulah SherriebMark Thomas worked for the Sherrieb's, and the Kesti brothers (Bill & Mel) had a farm equipment repair shop next to the store. Other residents who made up the brigade included: Al Childs, Min Asai, Dan and Frank Pierson, Willard Jensen, Joe Moore, Kay Thomas, Dave Jensen, "Jiggs" Kotila, Frank Wimmers, Robert Tallman, Irvine Sampson, Glenn McPherren, Bruno, Cliff, Norm & Rob Hukari, Ray Perkins, Terry Barnes, Gene Annala and others. They had a supply of about two dozen galvanized buckets, some garden hoses, and shovels they kept ready at the store. When someone had a fire, they called the store who called members from a telephone list. A phone tree then continued (usually by the wives) until everyone was called. Those that were available would grab the supplies and/or drive to the fire in there own vehicles. Other people would also respond to help their friends and neighbors in need. Everyone would honk their horns as they drove, to direct people to the fire. Meetings were held at the Rockford Grange Hall, and social activities were planned throughout the year.

Our First Truck
In 1942 the members acquired their first truck, a 1932 Dodge flatbed with stake racks, from Masaru "Charlie" Kawachi in Oak Grove. John Guignard and August Bosse of Ideal Grader & Nursery Co. donated a 200-gallon wooden spray tank. A pump & hoses were also donated by the U.S. Forest Service. The truck was kept in Kesti's Shop next to the store until a garage could be built. About ten years later, the tank and bed were replaced with metal ones. The truck was kept in service until about 1952, and then sold to Jim Oates of D & O Lumber Co. A single car garage was built by local builder George Stranahan on property belonging to the Rockford Grange, across from Kesti's shop. Members of the Fire Department and Grangers also helped with construction. Meetings were held in the garage which had benches, and wood a stove inside.

The Department Officially Formed
Members circulated petitions around the community to form a Rural Fire Protection District and on June 16, 1948 the Rockford RFPD was formed. Dan Hanners was the first Chief. Dan had recently been discharged from the Navy, after serving as a Damage Control Officer and Trainer. He brought his expertise and experience of firefighting to the department. Assistant Chief Mark ThomasPresident Bob Tallman, and Secretary Cliff Hukari were among the approximate 30 members in the department at that time. The district was divided into areas, with a captain in charge of each area. The areas: Belmont & FranktonEast BarrettWest Barrett, & Oak Grove. The first Board of Directors was: W.T. "Bill" Hukari, Dan Pierson, Mark Thomas, Jim Carr, and Willard Jensen. In August 1949 a siren was mounted on top of the Barrett Store. A second siren was mounted at the Oak Grove Store, which was owned and operated by Frank & Ila Fenwick. When a fire call was received, The Sherrieb's and Fenwicks would activate their sirens to alert the other members. The firemen would then call the stores to get the location of the fire. The phone tree would also be utilized to contact members. Unlike Sherrieb's who lived at their store, Fenwick's lived nearby on Binns Hill. At night Frank would have to get up and drive down to the store to activate the siren. Later when radio dispatching came along, only the noon sirens had to be activated manually. 

1949 Name Changed
In November 1949 petitions were again circulated to property owners, this time proposing to change the name to the West Side R.F.P.D. The vote passed, and the name changed soon after. It was felt the new name would better represent all the areas of the district.

Jim Murphy and Bill Cannon installing the siren on the hose tower

Rockford Station Built
In January 1950 the idea for a new bigger fire house was discussed. George Stranahan drew up plans, which were approved after some modifications. In March 1950 the State Fire Marshall approved the plans, and in April Kay Thomas was appointed to chair a building committee, members were Mel Kesti, Ben Bisbee, Harry Whatley, and Harley Horn. By July 1950 the plans went to the Board of Directors for their approval. In September of that year the foundation was poured and construction began. Members of the Fire Department, Rockford Grangers, and their families all volunteered time and labor. Materials were bought with tax revenues or donated, work parties were planned for three days a week. By December 1951 the new three bay fire hall was finished outside, only finish work inside remained. The old garage previously used, was moved to the rear of the new station to be used as the meeting room and kitchen area. Mel Kesti and Mark Thomas would often sleep at the station to respond quicker with the trucks. Some of the men would stay after the meetings to play cards until wee hours of the morning. In July 1963 the siren was moved to the top of a big tree in front of the station, with the help of Albert Hutson who worked for PP&L.

In November 1950 the first 2-way radio was put in Engine 55, and plectron receivers were obtained for members to put in their homes and businesses. In the early 1960's, Hood River Fire Dept. started dispatching calls by radio using an alert tone, and remotely activating the siren. 

More Trucks Added
A WW II International 4X4 Crash Truck was purchased from Neap Equipment in Portland, and became the departments second piece of equipment. An old Mack log truck was also purchased from Horn Brothers Logging, and fashioned into the first 1,000 gallon tanker. Later an army surplus International flatbed was obtained. The bed was enclosed to form a tank, and a pump was added to the rear. Later, the department purchased its first new truck, a Ford pumper, in 1952. 

"Order of the Door"
This event started in 1965 with first recipient being Jim Murphy for hitting the station door with a truck. It was fashioned after Odell's "The Order of the Oar". It seems Odell was on a water recovery one hot summer day on the Columbia River back in 1949. The wind picked up and the sheriff called for the boats to return. One of the boats motors wouldn't start, so the captain gave the order "Put Out The Oars". The crewman, also an Odell firemen, took the order literally, and threw the oars overboard. Since that time, "Order of the Door" has been awarded at the Christmas dinner, and marks most outstanding goof-up of the year. 

Addition to the Station
A Government Grant was secured with the help of Min Asai to enlarge the station. In 1964 local contractor Gilber Roberts (WA) was awarded the bid, and construction commenced. The addition expanded the truck bays, and made a new larger meeting room, office, and kitchen areas. It more than doubled the space, which was needed to accommodate more members and equipment. In the mid 1980's, the station received another change in its appearance. The roof line was modified to a more modern and functional design, a metal roof and siding replaced the old, and the grill area behind the station was enlarged and enclosed.

1969 | Student Firemen
Chuck Cooper saw an article in a magazine about student firemen in Florida and how successful the program was there. He brought it before the membership in 1969, and after some discussion to liability, the idea was accepted. The By-Laws were changed to allow students, at least 16 years old to join the department. The students would not be allowed to drive apparatus to fires, enter burning buildings, or vote during business meetings. They would however participate in all activities of the department. It was also arranged to receive school credit for the program through the High School. West Side was the first department to try the youth program in the Hood River Valley. The idea caught on, and soon other departments were joining in. The first students to participate in the program were: Keith Blackburn, Dave Couch, Jerry Ekker, Ken May, Steve Reynolds, Joe Wampler Jr., and Stewart Williams. 

E-54 Placed Near Heights
By the late 1960's the need to keep a truck closer to the Heights business area was discussed. In 1969 Bill Tallman leased Ladder's old shop on Tucker and Eliot Drive to the Dept. Engine 54, a 1964 Ford pumper was moved to the new location for quicker response. In 1974 Engine 54, a 1968 Ford pumper, replaced E-54 and remained until Station 2 was built in 1978. 

Blossom Day Breakfast
The West Side F. D. had been putting on a Mother's Day breakfast for members and their families. In 1973 Mary Moore from the Pine Grove Grange, who ran a smorgasbord on Blossom Sunday, asked if the WSFD agreed to help out, and switched their breakfast to Blossom Sunday. The breakfast was opened to the public as a fund raiser. 

1974: The New Engine - "New Look"
In February 1974, a new lime green WESTERN STATES 1,000 gallon Engine with front mounted controls arrived. The new color was chosen due to its proven high visibility under all types of conditions. All the previous trucks had mostly been white, which made them difficult to see in the snow.

1977: Station "2" Built
Property belonging to Marian Moore next to the Catholic Cemetery on Tucker Road was purchased as a future site for a second station. In 1977 Chief Bob Nickelsen learned of Government money available for community projects. Bob talked everyone into the idea of building a second station, and worked throughout the year getting the necessary paperwork in order. He knew of a similar project in Boring, Oregon and used their basic design to save time. The plans and proposal had to be submitted and approved within a short time period. Hood River Forestry Department had also applied for the grant, hoping to build a new station and City Hall. Our plans were approved, and construction began. Snow had to be scraped off to break ground and the cement foundation had to be watched closely during a cold spell that followed. Phil set up a trailer on the site to monitor the newly poured cement from freezing. By July 1978 the new station was completed, and two trucks moved in.

Medical Calls
In late 1977 Chief Bob Nickelsen started responding with the Hood River Ambulance on medical calls in the District. This was to keep pace with the trend that fire departments were going everywhere. All members already had First Aid training, and those interested started responding early in 1978. Bob Tallman (JR) was the first member to earn Basic EMT status. Soon other members took the additional training to become EMT's or First Responders. 

Jaws of Life
About 1977 the Valley Chief's decided a rescue truck with a Hurst Rescue Tool was needed to respond to vehicle accidents. Word got out and the Lions Rotary Club donated most of the funds needed to purchase the tool. The tool took two firefighters to operate due to its heavy weight. The rescue tool was originally kept at the Hood River Fire Department, and transported by private vehicle when needed. Later the tool was moved to West Side station 2 and carried on the old Fire Marshall's van. In the late 1980's, PP&L donated a 1982 CHEVROLET 4X4 utility truck, which became known as "JAWS". In December 1992 a newer lighter version of the tool was purchased with donations from several area Service Clubs. The old tool was kept on the truck as back-up, and to be used in conjunction with the new tool for large scale accidents. Air Bags, Rams, Air Chisel, Blocks, and other equipment were added to aid in extractions. The "JAWS" is owned jointly by the HR Valley departments and responds with EMS to all Motor Vehicle Accident's (MVA's) in the lower valley as needed. 

1932 Dodge Restored

1994-1998: 1932 Dodge Restored
The original truck was donated back to the Department by Jim Oates in 1994. The truck had to be completely rebuilt. A new wooden tank and bed were made, and original pump was put back on. A special thanks to the "RINGS KING'S", a local Car club, for the many hours they donated to help restore the truck. Also to the members of the WSFD who volunteered their time, especially Gene Wright. The truck was completed in the summer of 1998 in time for our 50th anniversary. The following businesses donated funds or materials: 


Station "2" Renamed
At old Timers Night June 20, 1998, Station 2 on Tucker Road was renamed the "Bob Nickelsen Station", in his honor. Bob remains an active member of the Department, was a former Chief for nearly 20 years, and is currently on the Board of Directors. He was instrumental in obtaining the grant needed to build the second station, and put a lot of his time and energy into seeing it become a reality. 

1998 | 50th Anniversary 
An open house was held August 22nd to celebrate our 50 years of service to the community. Thanks to the Board of Directors, the West Side F. D. has maintained a fleet of the most modern equipment, and trained personnel. We have two 1,000 gallon Pierce Engines, a 3,000 gallon Tender, two Booster trucks, and a Salvage van. All our fire trucks have foam capability and high volume pumps. The Bob Nickelsen station also houses the new "Jaws of Life" Rescue 1 truck. In 1998 West Side Fire District covered 25 square miles, and served a population of approximately 7,000 people. The area still includes residential, farm, commercial, and industrial property; 6 miles of Interstate Freeway, Union Railroad tracks, the Columbia, and Hood rivers. We now have 48 members who are required to have Basic First Aid and CPR, as well as firefighter training. In addition some are Paramedic, EMT, and FIRST RESPONDER trained.

Company #5
In the mid 90's, the department formed a Support Group (Company #5), which helps with support activities in the cold zone at fires, and other incidents. They also help maintain the equipment and stations assist with social activities, and fund raiser events. There are presently 5 members in the support group, all have prior firefighting experience.

2004 | Rescue 1
Purchased in 2004 through a generous grant from the Hood Riverl Lions Club, the 2004 Ford F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab truck responds to all motor vehicle accidents in the lower Hood River Valley. It contains Hurst extrication equipment and carries a maximum crew of five. It is jointly owned by all of the valley fire departments and is operated by West Side Fire Department volunteers.

2003/4 | Leo Phillips Scholarship Fund

Santa's Breakfast 
One of the departments newest fundraisers, established in 2004 after Leo Phillips. This all you can eat breakfast is held on the first Saturday of December each year with ham, eggs, and pancakes. Children of all ages may get thier picture taken with Santa Clause. All proceeds go towards the Leo Phillips Scholarship fund that honor students each year, winners given the scholarship may use the funds to further their education.

Leo Phillips devoted 50 years of fire service to Hood River County and became a member of the departments Company #5 during his last years of service. He provided his service, wisdom and stories that will be remembered by many, forever.

2008 | 60th Anniversary 
In 2009, we are celebrating 60 full years of service. 

2010 | LifePak 12 
In 2010, the department aquired an additional LifePak 12 cardiac monitoring system. This new machine is equiped with 12 lead ECG capability. This allows the district's EMT's to quickly determine life threatening cardiac issues in the field."

WSFD Honors Bob Nickelsen for his continued support of the department.


  • Purchase of Ford F-550 Federal surplus brush truck.
  • Westside Fire District hires second full-time administrative employee.
  • Ice Fountain water district transfers building behind station # 2 over to WSFD for additional storage.


  • Westside Fire District proposes local option levy for .50/1000 increase to help support a growing community.
  • Westside Fire District starts building regional training facility behind Station 1 on lands purchased from the Murphy family.
  • The Board of Directors approves the expansion of station #2 to build a recreational workout room.
  • West Side transfers ownership of grange hall back to Rockford Grange.

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