The Falls City Fire Department started off as not much more than a group of men willing to serve their community and a water pump across the street from what is now the general store. The water pump was a “force pump” located in front of the Falls City Hotel, which was located on the southwest corner of Main Street and Third Street, kitty-corner to our present day station. The pump drew from a well of “sulphure” water and served as the town’s early water source for fires and primary fire protection.
In 1912, the good people of this former bustling logging town organized the volunteer fire department under the direction of our first fire chief, H. Zimmerman. The earliest known equipment consisted of multiple hand carts that were spread out across the town. In 1922, a four-wheeled hose cart was built. Firefighters pulled it either by hand or by a car to get hoses wherever the fire was in town.
By the 1940s, a fire station had been built on the northeast corner of Main Street and Third Street – and yet still across the street from the general store. The station had two bays. By 1948, the department had bought its first real fire engines under the direction of Fire Chief Frank C. Brown, who served in the position from 1927-1955. First a Model A Ford (1928), then a Ford 500 GPM Pumper Truck (1947), and a Ford F-3 250 GPM Pumper Truck (1948).
By 1965, when our current E123 was bought, the department had grown to a group of men willing to serve their community and a brand new building with three bays that had just been built – still across the street from the general store.
By the mid-1980s, women and medics had both been added to our department’s roster and the station itself had undergone yet another expansion to accommodate our growing apparatus and equipment needs. The bays, still facing Main Street, now numbered four. Although even that was not always enough to contain all of the apparatus the department had acquired over the years as the town and surrounding area experienced growth.
Recognizing the growing needs of our community and our department, Falls City officials began making plans for a new fire station in 2000 while developing a master plan for the rejuvenation of downtown. The 35-year-old building was no longer meeting the training or emergency needs of the community. There was no longer enough room to house all of the apparatus and equipment needed to fight modern fires in an area with the population of our combined jurisdictions. Handicap accessibility and updated heating and cooling systems were also needed. The proposed construction and funding as well as the central location downtown made it an opportune moment to expand the fire station to include a desperately needed community center where the town could come together for meetings, classes, and events.
After four years of planning and raising funds by city officials, Fire Chief Robert Young was given the order to begin demolition on the building in the spring of 2004 with hopes of the new building being finished by the end of the year. However, after the apparatus bays that had lined Main Street for so long had been demolished, city officials began receiving the official new construction bids and realized that they were almost $300,000 short to begin construction despite the $600,000 Community Development Block Grant from the government that had been awarded for the planning and construction of the new building.
Rather than being deterred, fundraising efforts began in earnest throughout our little town. First, the building was scaled back by a full third. City officials began applying for grants from the government and various private foundations, hoping to be awarded a combined total of $150,000. Our members began focusing some of their time, energy, and money on various fundraising efforts. Our community members were made aware of the often requested “matching funds” portion of grants and they, too, set to work – their eye on $15,000 in matching funds. The town was alive with spaghetti feeds, Bingo nights, raffles, bake sales, craft sales, and other fundraisers.
For a full year, this whole town rallied together to build our fire station and the community center. Their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice paid off. In late July of 2005, construction began on the scaled back design, paid for with money from the government, private foundations, and the amazing efforts of our own citizens. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around that year, we were on track to complete construction by late March of 2006. And by the end of the long, cold Oregon winter, we had moved into our new home – a little later and smaller than we had originally planned on but far more rewarding and inspiring than we had ever anticipated!
Our current station is attached to the community center and is located at 320 N Main Street in the middle of town. It stands on the same soil as our department’s humble beginnings but features modern facilities and equipment to meet the needs of our small town. The 6,159-square-foot building sits on a 7,800-square-foot lot. The fire side features six bays, a generator/laundry room, training/meeting room, supply closet, and office. Our bays house our two engines, E122 and E123, as well as currently housing Southwest Polk County Rural Fire Protection District‘s apparatus, including an engine, a tender, and a command/squad unit. Shared with the community center is a full kitchen as well as men’s and women’s bathrooms, complete with showers for after calls. The community center boasts a large meeting room of its own that we occasionally rent for our various community events.
Today, we are a still a 100% volunteer fire department. We have 37 members divided into the three divisions of Fire Suppression and Rescue, EMS, and Support. We also have a chaplain and a public information officer who are not assigned divisions. Your volunteers respond 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – from work, from holiday family dinners, from track meets, and from their beds. We serve the 1,000 citizens of Falls City and the 1.2-square-mile town’s visitors as well as respond through contracts to all of Polk County and parts of Marion and Yamhill Counties.
Whether in town helping our neighbors or around the region helping our fire neighbors, Falls City Fire Department provides fire, rescue, pre-transport medical, and public education services. Included in our fire and rescue services, we respond to all fire related calls, hazardous material incidents, motor vehicle accidents, and various kinds of rescues, including water rescues from our beautiful waterfalls throughout the year. We are also heavily involved in the community that rallied around us in our time of need – hosting and participating in community events, providing free community classes, and providing public education to our local students and citizens.