Sisters Fire Department Established
On May 10th, 1937 the town of Sisters held a special meeting focused around establishing a fire department. The Chief of Bend Fire Department, Tom Carlin was present at this meeting and advised the group as to what equipment was needed to establish such an organization. Chief Carlin also offered to help train volunteers and assist in the purchasing of fire equipment.
A vote was held and on May 10th, 1937 the Sisters Fire Department was established. They elected a Board of Directors, established a Public Relations Department and elected the first Fire Chief, George Wakefield.
During 1937, the Board of Directors voted to install a central alarm system to alert the volunteers of a call, the alarm system was operated by the United States Forest Service. The Board of Directors also purchased their first tank trailer and 600 feet of 1.5 inch hose in 1937.
In 1938, the Sisters Fire Department established their first tax of $1.00 per household and $5.00 per “businessman” to help fund the fire suppression equipment needed to operate.
In 1939, the Board of Directors ordered and purchased ladders, axes, helmets and paint for their tank trailer. They also started having meetings on the first Monday of every month. In November 1939, the board elected Mr. Hamilton, who was then the City Marshal.
The Department Grows
The next twenty years consisted of purchasing additional equipment such as engines, electing new board members and recruiting more volunteers. In 1943, the Fire Department purchased a 1943 Dodge Pumper with a 500 gallon tank and 2.5 inch hose. This fire truck is still used today by the Fire District as a special events vehicle.
The Fire Department did not have a fire station and had been storing some of its vehicles at City Hall. Unfortunately, City Hall was so small that volunteers would have to squeak by the apparatus and turn sideways to get into them. There was no official ambulance service for Sisters, however it was noted that a local towing company owned a hearse and would use it to transport patients to the hospital. In 1951, Jerry Benson was elected Fire Chief, Cliff Ullman as Assistant Chief, Dick Day and Don Trusheim as Captains.
In 1959, the City government reconsidered its district boundaries and the option was presented to the community of Cloverdale to be included in the Sisters Fire Department. Cloverdale eventually declined to become part of the Sisters Fire Department. At the time, the water mains in town were constructed from wooded pipes and the Department started maintaining the hydrant systems by flushing, pumping and cleaning them.
In January 1961, Mr. Austin was elected Chief, Mr. George as Assistant Chief, Mr. Mouser and Mr. Jones as Captains. Also in 1961, the Fire District started holding an annual “Fireman’s Party” which is still conducted every year, but is now known as the “Annual Awards Banquet.”
In 1962, the Fire Department started conducting fire education, and specialized training for its firefighters. The Fire Department brought in Russ Washburn of Redmond Fire to teach the firefighters how to combat chemical fires such as oil and gasoline fires. He also aided in purchasing chemical fire extinguishers. Washburn also assisted the Fire Department in purchasing their first SCBA’s.
In 1963, L.D. Buell was elected Fire Chief and Don Rowe was elected Assistant Chief. In 1966 H. Durham took L.D.Buell’s position as Fire Chief, and later in 1970 Don Rowe was elected as Fire Chief.
In 1975, the Fire Department received a service truck from Pacific Northwest Bell and they converted it into their first rescue vehicle. The department purchased a ladder, pump and a hydraulic tool for use in extrication and placed it on the rescue vehicle.
The Camp Sherman Fire station was established in 1975 and until 1991; it was not a part of the Sisters Fire Department. The fire agencies of Sisters, Black Butte and Camp Sherman teamed up for emergency response through a mutual aid agreement. The Camp Sherman Fire District was responsible for serving over 400 square miles including Suttle Lake, Santiam Pass and the Metolius Basin.
Between 1976 and 1981, emergency medical services were becoming an increasing part of the Fire Department’s responsibilities. They started training volunteers in CPR, encouraged further education such as First Responder and EMT’s. There was a massive fire in 1978 known as the Tollgate fire that led to the establishment of the Tollgate Fire Station (Station 702).
In 1980 a new fire station was constructed at the current location of 301 S. Elm Street in Sisters. The new station prompted a lot of controversy regarding taxes because the city was going through difficult financial times. The citizens of Sisters felt the fire department did not need such a building and did not support an increase in taxes. The new station was sarcastically named the “Taj Mahal”. The Fire Department also conducted several fundraisers to help fund the new station such as running a beer stand every year at the Sisters Rodeo, putting on potlucks, bingo events and coordinating several community dances.
In 1981, the Camp Sherman Fire District began to hold drills with the Sisters Fire Department. The Sisters Fire Department also received a new ambulance that year and purchased new extrication tools for vehicle extrication – the department’s first HURST tool. Safety was becoming more of a priority, and regulations imposed by OSHA eventually abolished the practice of tailboard riding.
Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District
In 1991, the Camp Sherman Fire District and the Sisters Fire Department merged into one organization to become the “Sisters – Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection District.”
The period of 1990 through 2000 focused on improvements to the water system in Sisters, replacing the aging wooden mainlines with new pipes that would allow over 1000 gallons per minute of water to be drawn from the system. In 1992, the Sage Flat fire consumed over 18 structures, which increased the demand to build a fire station in Squaw Creek Canyon Estates (Station 703). In 1993 the Fire District introduced a Student Scholarship program. This was designed for students interested in both the Fire Science and EMS programs. In 1994 the Sisters – Camp Sherman Fire District had their first major Hazmat incident that spilled a very poisonous flammable gas. It closed HWY 20 for several days and required a specialized team from Texas be flown into the area to clean and decontaminate the area. In 1996 the District focused on community education classes. Chief Rowe initiated field trips to the station and helped teach many of the classes, which were focused on fire prevention and “stop drop and roll.” The department would also certify the employees of the local high school in CPR. In 1998 the District introduced the accountability system that is now known as the “passport system.”
From 1998 through 2003, the Sisters – Camp Sherman Fire District experienced some of the largest wildland fires in the State of Oregon’s history. In the summer of 2002, the Sisters – Camp Sherman Fire District asked for additional resources to help with the Cache Mountain fire which burned a total of 3,894 acres and consumed two residential homes in the Black Butte Ranch.
In 2002, the department purchased its first fully equipped fire truck, Engine 721. The department also purchased a new water tender.
During the spring of 2003, the Fire District was again faced with another large wildland fire, called the “Link Fire.” The Link fire was large, however due to the location of the fire (in the already burned area from the Cache Mountain Fire) and the weather behavior, it was not necessary to call for a conflagration. In the summer of 2003, the Fire District faced its largest wildland fire yet, the B&B Complex fire. It burned more than 91,000 acres and forced the Governor to declare a conflagration twice.
In the Winter of 2003, the Sisters – Camp Sherman Fire District hired Taylor Robertson as the new Fire Chief.
In 2005, the Fire District again faced a very large wildland fire, this time it was barreling towards the city of Sisters; it was known as the Black Crater fire. A Conflagration was declared and by the time the fire was contained, it burned 1 structure and would burn over 9,400 acres. The second fire that affected the Sisters area in 2005 was The Lake George Fire burning six miles southwest of Black Butte Ranch and burned 5,253 acres. A full time training officer was hired in the fall of 2005. Also in the fall of 2005, the Board of Directors put a bond measure on the ballots for 2.5 million dollars to fund a new fire station at the current site.
Chief Robertson retired in June 2012 and the current Fire Chief is Roger Johnson. In addition to Chief Johnson, current staffing includes: Deputy Chief of Operations, part-time Finance Manager, Administrative Assistant, part-time Fire Safety Manager, three Shift Commander – Paramedics, 6 Firefighter Paramedics, part-time Mechanic, seven resident volunteers and approximately 45 volunteers.
Serving the Community for Six Decades
The Sisters – Camp Sherman Fire District is dedicated in providing ongoing excellence in service. We are committed to ongoing training in the most advanced fire suppression techniques, basic and advanced life support emergency skills, as well as many additional emergency response skills that today’s firefighters/paramedics must be prepared to utilize at any given time. The Department also focuses on providing education to children on how to prevent accidents, how to use seatbelts, and how to be safe when home alone.
The Sisters – Camp Sherman Fire District is proud to have been serving this community for the past six decades and considers it an honor to hold the public’s trust.