The Evolution of fire protection on the Hill
by Carl Vest
Organized fire protection on South Hill is a relatively new service. As we all know, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue is now that provider (with some coverage from Graham Fire & Rescue and Puyallup at the interface points with their areas). But, during the early periods of settlement on South Hill there was no fire department. If there was a fire, neighbors helped each other, or just let it burn.
Until the mid-1940s the population on the Hill was so low that supporting a fire department seemed impractical. But that thinking started to change as the number of inhabitants increased and it was actually in 1947 that a group of citizens first gathered to initiate the process of forming a basic volunteer fire department. Their plan did not include South Hill as we know it today, but it was a start and the thinking included a vision for expansion. About a year later, in April 1948, a proposal was submitted to the voters. It passed.
Thus 1948 is the year that fire-fighting gear was first bought, an engine was procured, and a fire station built. Voters had approved $4 million to make this happen. The first station was built at 114th Street and Canyon Road and was completed in January 1950. The primary service areas were the communities of Summit, Woodland, and Collins and it was known as the Summit-Woodland-Collins Fire Department.
In 1954 service was expanded to the Waller Road district. But it was not until 1958 (ten years after being formed) that South Hill proper was included, when coverage to the Willows and Firgrove communities were included. To support this expansion the first fire station on the Hill was built at 116th Street and 94th Avenue. All personnel were volunteers until 1964, when the first paid person was hired. Medical response services (EMS) were added in 1969.
The name of the group was changed in 1972 to the Summit Fire Department. Shortly afterwards, in 1973, a new station was built on the Hill at 128th Street and 98th Avenue. It is still in use. It replaced the older one, which was abandoned. Still, in the early 1970s, the fire fighting service was primarily a volunteer group.
The first paid fire fighters on the Hill were hired in 1976 and worked from the 128th Street facility. In 1978 the name was changed to the Summit-South Hill Fire Department. In 1986 an additional fire station was built on the eastern side of Thun Field, on 110th Avenue, next to what is now the Clover Park Technical College. It was not until 1998 that it was staffed full time.
The current name for these fire fighters was established in 1994. During that year the Summit-South Hill group merged with the Parkland, Midland, and Spanaway departments, to become Central Pierce Fire & Rescue. And, in 2002, the department finally became a totally paid agency and no longer depends on volunteers.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.