History of West Pierce Fire & Rescue
After two years of study, community input and preparation, the University Place Fire Department and Lakewood Fire Department officially merged on March 1, 2011 to become West Pierce Fire &
As far back as 1983, the two departments realized the benefits of regionalizing emergency services. That was the year they joined with the Fircrest Fire Department to form Fire Comm, a regional 911 dispatch center. Today, Fire Comm continues as a division of West Pierce Fire & Rescue, providing 911 call receiving and dispatch services to over 400,000 citizens in 19 fire districts throughout Pierce County. But the history of West Pierce Fire & Rescue would not be complete without these two organizations that have proudly served the communities of Lakewood and University Place for over 70 years.
University Place Fire Department
The history of the University Place Fire Department dates back to March 4, 1941, when the University Place Volunteer Fire Department was formed. Three years later, on August 26, 1944, the University Place Fire Department (Pierce County Fire Protection District #3) was officially formed.
During the 1940s, the University Place Fire Department worked out of its first station, a converted tomato shed that was donated by the Thomas family, located on Grandview Avenue. In 1952, a new station was built next door. The building is still standing and is now the University Place Community Center.
In 1957 the department moved to a new three-bay fire station that was built at 7909 40th Street West. In 1966 two additional bays were added and in 1981 the station was remodeled to house office space, a training room, and sleeping quarters. Most recently, in 2002, construction was completed on the Public Safety Building, located on Drexler Drive West.
The first Fire Chief of the University Place Fire Department was Les McGaw, who served from 1941 to 1965, and the first paid Firefighter was Lindley S. Wicks, Sr., who was hired in 1950.
Lakewood Fire Department
Lakewood was originally known as the Tacoma Lakes District. In November 1940, Tacoma Lakes District residents voted almost eight to one in favor of creating a fire protection district (Pierce County Fire Protection District #2), and named Julius Mann, Allen H. Link and R.D. Johnson commissioners for the district.
The Evans-Burke garage, located directly across from Clover Park School, served as the first fire station. It wasn’t until July of 1942 that L.J. Caraway was named the first Fire Chief and he was assisted by Walt Evans, a volunteer.
In 1954, the public approved a measure to expand the Lakewood Fire Department’s capabilities by adding four new fire stations to meet the ever increasing demand. The station locations were located at Ardmore and 93rd, serving as the new headquarters station, and in the Lake City, Tillicum, and Southgate neighborhoods. In 1961, after the Lakewood Fire Department annexed additional land in the northwest area of their fire district, they purchased a site for a fifth fire station, located on Farwest Drive, about ten blocks north of the new Lakes High School.
By 1966 the Lakewood Fire Department had grown to 14 full time firefighters and 35 volunteers, and they were recognized as the first fire district in the state with a Class 5 rating – meaning residents enjoyed lower insurance rates. In 1969 the Lakewood Fire Department headquarters station was relocated from its site at 93rd and Ardmore to the site at 5000 Steilacoom Boulevard.
Through the next four decades, the Lakewood Fire Department continued to grow. In 2001, the voters approved a bond issue to build a fifth station on Pacific Highway, where the headquarters station was relocated, along with a fifth engine company. This bond issue also allowed a major renovation of all of the other facilities, including the state of the art training center on Steilacoom Boulevard.
Visit our History Museums
West Pierce Fire & Rescue has two history museums to capture the history of each department prior to the merge. Please come by to take a look around at your convenience.
University Place Fire History Museum
West Pierce Fire & Rescue Station 31
3631 Drexler Drive West
University Place 98466
Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Lakewood Fire History Museum
West Pierce Fire & Rescue Station 20
10928 Pacific Highway SW
Hours: Monday through Friday by appointment.