A Lifetime of Heroism, Fire Department Honored At Library

Spread the love

History: Beaverton Fire Department

By Dennis McNabb, Staff Writer

Photo by Kristen Henderson & Brittany Jungenberg

Firefighters of the Beaverton Fire Department

Consider this: Firefighters may represent the best of all of us, the best of what humanity has to offer. After solemn reflection on the subject, who can really argue otherwise? Firefighters bravely and selflessly put their lives on the line every day to save others, period. They literally walk through fire for us. Extrapolating further, one might conclude that the best of the best would then have to be volunteer firefighters: those who dedicate their lives to saving others without even receiving monetary compensation.

A display at the Beaverton Linrary

It seems impossible, given the size of the city now. Still, from 1934 into the 1960s, Beaverton was served primarily by a volunteer fire department. The department later merged with Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (TVF&R). Still, thanks to the hard work and resolve of two of its retired members, it will not be forgotten. On Friday, July 28 this year, the Beaverton Library unveiled a new display commemorating the department’s existence and honoring its legacy.
The earliest records of an organized Beaverton Fire Department came from an article published in the Feb. 21, 1914 edition of “The Owl,” a local Beaverton newspaper. There was recorded activity before that, but nothing that was well organized. Even after 1914, the program lacked consistency and was continuously reorganized. It wasn’t until 1934 that bylaws were adopted that provided the needed structure for continuity. In 1935, the volunteers converted a truck chassis from Carr Chevrolet into the first pumping engine. In 1937, volunteers began promoting the formation of a “rural fire protection district” for the areas surrounding the city limits of Beaverton. In 1946, said district was established and would eventually become Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

Beaverton Firefighters

The city offices, the Beaverton Library, and the fire department all moved into a new facility built on the corner of 5th Street and Hall Boulevard in 1958. In 1960, the first paid firefighters were hired, and in 1973, the department transitioned into an all-paid agency. In 1986, Marilyn Kosel was hired as the first female firefighter in Washington County (and only the second in Oregon history!). In 1989, Beaverton entered discussions with neighboring districts regarding consolidation, and in 1996, Beaverton merged with TVF&R. In 1999, the original facilities on Fifth Street, which housed Beaverton City Hall, the library, and the fire department, were demolished and replaced by the “new” library.
We all have a natural tendency to assume that things will be remembered, that things, once established, will endure in the annals of history if not our collective consciousness. That’s often not the case, however. Records are sometimes lost. History is sometimes rewritten. And our memories are not as accurate as we would like them to be. The Beaverton Fire Department existed for over six decades but had few records documenting its accomplishments, particularly from earlier days. And because so many of the firefighters themselves have since passed on, much of its history is sadly lost. It is only due to the tenacious efforts of two men, retired Fire Chief Gary Nees and retired Beaverton Fire Marshal David Nelson, that we now have at least some of the key moments of the department’s history memorialized.
It began with the rediscovery of an old plaque; David Nelson explained a plaque that had long been misplaced and thought lost. It was originally created in the 1980s by Gary Nees to recognize and honor those volunteer firefighters who had served. It was first displayed in the lobby of the City Hall and then moved to a room on the second floor of the current library. Around 2007, it was taken down, and members of the fire department had no idea where it had gone. In September of 2022, it was through a completely unrelated query Nelson had made regarding some antique fire apparatuses that he rediscovered its whereabouts.
Since locating it last year, David has worked tirelessly with Gary Nees in conjunction with TVF&R Public Affairs Officer Corrine Haning and various departments and agencies throughout downtown Beaverton to establish a new location and design a new display. The display itself is a gorgeous wall piece with historical photos flanking the original plaque, and it provides information chronicling the history of the Beaverton Fire Department from before it was officially organized (around the turn of the century) all the way up through its merger with TVF&R in 1996. Gary Nees and David Nelson were both present for its unveiling and also spoke at the event. Additional speakers included Mayor Lacey Beaty, current TVF&R Assistant Chief Patrick Fale, and Library Director Kim Carroll. Kim stated that it was a privilege for the library to be able to exhibit such an important part of the town’s history, and David Nelson said it was one of the most significant projects he’s ever worked on.
If you are at all interested in the history of the Beaverton Fire Department or fire safety and prevention in general, by all means, come on down to the Beaverton Library and enjoy this informative and decorative piece. It can be found on the wall of the library’s foyer, to the right as you walk through the doors.

Inside the Beaverton Library