CBRFD has grown like wildfire since the 1960s
CBFD fighting the Wytaski Fire of 1968.
Photo courtesy Cannon Beach History Center & Museum

In this, the second of a two-part series on rescue services in Cannon Beach, I jump to the 1960s. This era saw a transition from the Mac McCoy period in the late 1950s to the late 1960s, when bona fide fire & rescue and lifeguard squads (volunteer and otherwise) worked for the city of Cannon Beach. Not long before this, Cannon Beach acquired its own fire hall, a small building located near the present-day chamber of commerce.

The early Cannon Beach Fire Hall had a refrigerator and woodstove and housed summer lifeguards. Allen Litweller-lifeguard in Cannon Beach from 1963 to 1966- recalls an incident early in his lifeguarding career, when a fire call came in to the station around 2 a.m. In those days, before radios and dispatchers, the Cannon Beach rescue communication center consisted of 1) a party-line that rang the station, fire chief, assistant chief and mayor, and 2) a blackboard and piece of chalk. Whoever answered the call at the station wrote the address of the call on a blackboard and sounded the rescue alarm-a rumbling, emergency siren reminiscent of WWII air raid sirens.

The first time this happened to Allen, he got up, turned on the lights of the station, manned the phone, started the engine-and waited. Five, six, seven excruciating minutes passed and no one showed. Then, as he debated hopping on the fire truck himself, he glanced up the street to see one of the volunteers running toward the station, putting on his clothes! Somehow, a crew made it to the call.

Not to be critical, but the system may have been a tad prosaic. Cannon Beach's current fire chief, Cleve Rooper, first volunteered for CB Fire & Rescue in 1971, and has charted the monumental gains the program has made since that time. During the early days of Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue, crews did their best with the resources afforded them, but training was loose, unstructured, and relatively unplanned, and equipment was minimal. One 1963 Ford fire engine was the only truck operating in Cannon Beach in 1971, though fires were much more common then than they are today. Many pre-1970s-era cabins had been built prior to safety codes. The result was an abundance of electrical and chimney fires. For all this simplicity, Cannon Beach Fire & Rescue had about as many volunteers in the early '70s as they do now.

Through the years, Cleve Rooper took on more and more responsibility within the department, and in 1995 was appointed chief by the Fire Board-a position that came to be funded as a full time paid-staff position in 1999. He has seen CBRFD (Cannon Beach Rural Fire District) morph into a highly complex and demanding department, with two full-time staff, seven vehicles, and two tsunami alert systems (one in Arch Cape). The complexity and scope of the changes are largely due to the National Fire Protection Association and an exploding list of regulations, inspections, and other requirements. For example, each volunteer firefighter is now required to participate in at least 60 hours of training each year-a substantial volunteer investment. Add to this the hours spent responding to calls.

Not only has CBRFD changed over the years to accommodate greater demands for professionalism, training, and equipment, but it has changed to suit the shifting demographics of the Cannon Beach community. Today, building-fire calls are few. On the other hand, human and vehicle traffic around Cannon Beach is, especially during the "on-season," plentiful. As a result, 65 to 70 percent of the calls answered by CBRFD are emergency medical calls, and the program's focus has broadened to address Cannon Beach's growing need for surf rescue, high-angle rescue, and responses to motor vehicle accidents.

All of this change has coincided with an evolving demographic that makes it more and more difficult for CBRFD to find suitable volunteers. The Cannon Beach fire and rescue programs have taken giant steps of progress since 1938 when lifeguard Ted Nickelsen was the town's one-man rescue show. Townspeople need to address enormous challenges if these programs are to stay strong in the future.

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