Department marks 120th anniversary this week and plans a party for Feb. 13

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Former fire marshal Marvin Wright, at left in this photo of an old Forest Grove Fire & Rescue ladder truck, served with the department in the 1960s. Back then Wright, now 72, was paid $400 a month.When Marvin Wright began his career with the Forest Grove Fire Department in 1964, things were quite different from the way they are today.

“I was hired as assistant training officer,” reminisced Wright, who worked his way up to the rank of fire marshal. “The city wanted to start me at $375 a month, but [Fire Chief] Justin Jordan talked them into $400 a month. Back then, you could buy bread five loaves for a dollar, and my wife and I had a $30-a-month gasoline budget.”

As the city prepared to celebrate Forest Grove Fire & Rescue’s 120th birthday, Wright, 72, shared some memories of the early days.

When he began fighting fires, the extinguishers were filled with chemical soda ash and had to be turned upside down and squirted, Wright said. To make them foam, a firefighter put his hand over the nozzle. COURTESY PHOTO

There were no Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) tanks when Wright began. Instead, the men used canisters that strapped to the hip, containing cotton with a charcoal filter, attached to a face mask with a hose.

“You had to suck really hard to get air through the cotton,” said Wright, who often comes back to the station to visit with current firefighters. “It was easier to get on the floor, pull off your mask and breathe fresh air from below the smoke.”

The first air packs the department owned weren’t used for years, until a local scuba instructor purchased a large enough compressor to fill them.

When they weren’t fighting fires, employees headed over to City Hall, where they cleaned the toilets and mopped floors, which were often covered in gum, scuff marks and tobacco spit. City vehicle repairs were also the responsibility of fire crews.

Forest Grove led the way as the first department in the state to create a training manual, Wright said. Fire Chief Justin George created the guide and was very involved in trainings. Wright, in turn, came up with the first maps of the area to boost firefighter response time. That professionalism has always been a hallmark of the Forest Grove Fire Department, and continues to be, said Wright.

COURTESY PHOTOAs he reflects, there are many calls Wright can’t bear to describe. “I’ve seen too much death,” he said. “It really has affected me.”

But he loved his occupation, and he is proud of his department. “It’s a heck of a profession if you want to touch people. I don’t know any other way that you can get that close to people and be with them in their miseries ... you’re helping people, [and] that’s the main thing.”

That tradition continues today, 120 years after the department was formed.

Recently, an elderly resident came to the department and explained she was unable to change the license plate on her car.

Dave Nemeyer, FGF&R’s current fire marshal, went out and changed the plate.COURTESY PHOTO

“It is all about community service,” Nemeyer said. “Since the 1800s, it’s been neighbor helping neighbor. We really want to be neighbors to the people of Forest Grove.”

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