Where there’s smoke…

The Issaquah History Museums looks back at 100 years of fighting fires in Issaquah

Firefighting in the Issaquah area has a long, respected, and occasionally spectacular history.

Firefighters are our local heroes, from early-day volunteers to today’s Eastside Fire & Rescue.

Organized firefighting in Issaquah began in 1912 with 18 volunteers and a hose cart. Today Eastside Fire & Rescue has 15 fire stations, 147 full time employees and 100 volunteers.

Among thousands of Issaquah fires and rescues, three of the most notable were the Issaquah Coal Company Store (“it’s a wonder the whole town didn’t burn”), the destruction of Monohan, and the night Issaquah’s Fire Station burned.

Let’s be historical and take things chronologically.

According to Harriet Fish, in her book “This Was Issaquah,” “The first bit of firefighting history in Issaquah, the Issaquah Independent of Sept. 13, 1904… tells of the ‘destructive conflagration’ of the Issaquah Coal Company’s store which stood about where the Peter’s Agency is today. Fancy a seething, roaring whirlpool of white heat covering more than an acre of ground, towering hundreds of feet in the air, surrounded by frail wooden structures filled to the roof with valuable merchandise and personal effects and you have the task. Then form a conception of a dozen iron-nerved, steady-eyed, resolute men with… determination to conquer, and you see those who rose to the occasion and fought with unyielding endurance.”

The loss was kept to the company store and five adjoining buildings on the west side of Front St.

“Mullarkey’s Klondike Bar and Schomber’s Bakery in the north part of the burning block… were on fire several times but saved by heroic effort,” Fish wrote. Across the street, Odd Fellows Hall, Gibson Drug Store, and Cubbon’s Grocery were “scorched but saved.”

Speculation arose, according to Edward R. Fish in his book “The Past at Present,” “that the origin of the blaze was not entirely accidental… The Company Store, where the fire started, was insured for the comparatively large sum of $11,750… Issaquah Coal Company had been closed down the year before by a very permanent looking strike, and the Company Store had been selling out at cost for the past month.”

Harriet Fish commented, “Apparently this ‘dozen resolute men’ were strictly on their own for it was six years later when the first official town action supported their efforts. In 1910, the town council appointed a committee to buy a fire bell… installed on a wooden tower near the present Issaquah Press building, in close proximity to the first fire house around the corner and near the Masonic Temple today.”

The Issaquah Volunteer Fire Department officially organized July 1, 1912 with 18 volunteers. They got off to a fast start, holding a July Fourth barbecue at City Park to raise funds for fire-fighting equipment. The first piece was a two-wheeled hose cart.

Ed Fish writes, “When the bell sounded its coded call to spot a fire’s location, all available volunteers and the inevitable horde of youngsters came on the run to Alben Ek’s ice cream parlor, (where the overalls were hung just inside the door), and if the customers stayed out of the way the volunteers could get changed and have the hose wagon rolling in short order… everybody would grab hold and run like heck!”

Hose cart and fire bell are in Issaquah History Museums’ collection.

About 1921, the City’s purchase of a model T Ford chemical fire truck motorized Issaquah VFD, well ahead of surrounding towns. It proved to be useful when Monohan, mid-way up Lake Sammamish, burned on June 25, 1925.

Witness Carmen Ek Olson writes in “This Was Issaquah,” “The mill fire started rather small. But before it was under control the train ran over the water hose and severed it. This accident delayed fighting the fire.”

Most of Monohan was destroyed, including the large lumber mill, piles of drying lumber, the mill store, and the meeting hall.

“Change of wind had saved only a few homes at the north end of town, the hotel, and the old school. Many families were left homeless and jobless,” Olson wrote. Today, some of those homes remain near the store site occupied by the Monohan 7-11. The mill’s pump engine is in the IHM collection.

To be continued…

Mary Scott is a docent at the Issaquah History Museums. Her history of firefighting in Issaquah will continue in next week’s Reporter.