Eugene@150: Eugene's Fire Dept. 'Never take this job for granted'

Eugene@150: Eugene's Fire Dept. 'Never take this job for granted' »Play Video
President John F. Kennedy visits the Eugene Fire Department.

EUGENE, Ore. -- Ten years after Eugene’s incorporation, City Council decided it was time to set up a fire fighting team. In 1872 the fire service was born with just seven volunteers.

By World War II, the department staff had only grown to 15. Retired administrative chief Dave Boggs said he remembers those days well.  When Boggs joined Eugene Fire in1943, a city map was his first piece of equipment.

“They told me to study that and learn every street name and how to get there.” 89-year-old Boggs said. “We were working 24 on and 24 off, forever, no extra day off.”

While the schedule was difficult, Boggs admitted that he had it better than his predecessors. Current fire chief Randy Groves said that the first Eugene fire crews didn't even have horses.

“In fact, the hose carts were pulled by hand; everything was done by hand.  We didn't get the first horse until 1905.”

By 1913, horses gave way to motorized fire engines and trucks.  Full-time paid firefighters were hired in the 1920's. The 1950's brought more growth as voters passed bond measures for new trucks and engines.

Boggs said that while the fire crews were hard workers, there were pranks were a-plenty in the firehouse.  Boggs remembers when crews greased the fire pole.

“Those guys would attain almost the speed of sound coming down that pole.” laughed Boggs.

With all of the good times, Boggs recalled just as many somber ones. Dave remembered October 1966 … the Kendal Ford fire.

“That was a disastrous fire.  Of course we had two fatalities--firefighters.” Boggs said.

His co-workers and friends Leland Christensen and Harold Stinson lost their lives.  Their pictures line the wall of a training room.

“So that we remember not only those who have gone before us, but also to remind us never to take this job for granted.” said fire chief Groves.

What hasn't gone up in smoke is the history of this department, and the living history told by men like Dave Boggs.

Boggs retired from the force in January 1981, about seven months after Randy Groves joined the fire department as a rookie.