Multnomah Volunteer Fire Department

Multnomah Fire Department paint crew, ca. 1940. L to R - Lorry Marshal, Dick Layman, ?, Virg Spencer, Harry Lawrence.

Multnomah Fire Department paint crew, ca. 1940. L to R – Lorry Marshal, Dick Layman, ?, Virg Spencer, Harry Lawrence.


In January 1926 the Multnomah Booster Club discussed what would happen if a fire started in the main business district. Just a few feet of fire hose was stored at the schoolhouse, and the nearest Portland fire station was miles away. They purchased 400 more feet of hose and negotiated for a hose cart and an electric siren. A volunteer fire department was formed and involved mostly businessmen. The fire equipment was stored at the Wilcox Garage (later Beardsley’s Garage).

That August, the new volunteers were put to the test. An early morning fire destroyed the Conger Print Shop, the Multnomah Transfer and Ice Co, and the Capitol Fuel Co. office, and partially destroyed the Multnomah Stage Co.’s garage before it was put out.

By the mid-thirties the Multnomah business community was the shopping center for all of southwest Portland south of Beaverton, but for fire protection they still relied on the business people and their makeshift volunteer fire department along with getting fire engines to come from Portland or Beaverton.

On February 17, 1938 the Multnomah County Commissioners met at Multnomah School to organize a fire department for Multnomah. In April 1939 work began on the new fire station building (now Neighborhood House). The building had a dormitory on the second floor, housed equipment on the main, and had a full basement. William (Bill) Surplice was appointed chief May 31, 1939. The Chief enlisted about thirty volunteers, 18 to 28 years of age. They received no compensation, not even on fire calls. The first truck arrived on July 22, 1939.

Multnomah Fire Department Station and Trucks, ca. 1950.

Multnomah Fire Department Station and Trucks, ca. 1950.


November 7 1950, the people of Multnomah voted for annexation into Portland, and Portland took over the fire department August 1, 1951. The volunteers from the old district who wanted to remain were hired by the Portland Fire Department, and the Portland Fire Department operated out of the old Multnomah station until a new station on S.W. 30th near Dolph Court opened in 1960.

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1 Response

  1. Brad Bentson says:

    Multnomah Fire Department paint crew, ca. 1940. L to R – Lorry Marshal, Dick Layman, ?, Virg Spencer, Harry Lawrence.

    The above photo was taken in the mid 1950’s . Not 1940. The missing name , is my father. William ( Bill) Bentson. We live at 4217 SW Carson St Multnomah.

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