Skip to main content

Fire District History

Group of people standing by an old car and garage, with trees and a power line in the background.
Members of the "Scrappy 6" Fire Brigade: L to R Anna Mae Judge, Aage Thompson, Ida Thompson, Vivian Newsome, Eva Conway, and Thema Moffat in front of the original fire station

Female Chief Heads women Firefighters of Gales Addition Volunteer Crew

article by Kathleen AIken, published some time in the late 1940s

When Gales Addition’s firetruck goes roaring through the county side in answer to an alarm, you’ll seldom see a man aboard.  But no one in the neighborhood gets excited, for by this time they are all use to the all women fire brigade.

Heading the feminine firefighters of Gales Addition is Mrs Robert (Thelma) Moffat.

During the past 5 years this handsome woman, mother of 3 children, has answered 60 calls a year.  Assisted by her six women brigade she renders first aid and fire protection to more than 300 outlying homes within a radius of several miles from Gales Addition.

Of course most of the menfolk, most of whom commute to their jobs in Port Angeles mills, give a helping hand if they are away from work.

No one on the fire brigade gets paid and, except for when she took time 2 years ago when her baby was born, Chief Moffat is on call 24 hours a day.

When Moffat’s family came to Gales Addition during the war manpower shortage, they learned from the civil defense authorities of the need for an auxiliary fire crew in the rapidly growing rural district.  Mrs. Moffat volunteered to help because she recalls, “I thought it would be wonderful to drive a fire truck.”

She soon learned there was more to the job than driving a fire engine.  Gradually she relinquished her war work, club activities and social affairs, and made firefighting her only hobby outside her home.

“Naturally when the fire gong rings in my kitchen it interferes with the brigade’s housework, especially if we have a cake or pie in the oven. But our husbands are always willing to help out.  Often, they will chase us out to the fire while they start dinner or tend to the children” Moffat said.

“Our high school aged son Bobbie is taking first aid lessons, I guess he figures that when I get too old, he will have a chance to drive the fire truck.”

Godfather of the Brigade

In response to Chief Moffat’s request, Charles Goodwin of the Port Angeles Fire Department conducts weekly first aid lessons in E.H. Keller’s barn.  Keller is a long-time railroad man and Godfather of the fire brigade. He not only lends his barn for class work, but he also donated the land on which the new firehall was built last summer.

On class night the firewomen in their form fitting overalls congregate in the Keller’s farmyard.  Like conspirators at a secret rendezvous, they make their way through the darkness to the crude steps of the woodshed and climb to the barn loft.

They spread out on the barn loft floor, bandaging heads, putting limbs in splints, and rescuing each other from “drowning”.  They breathe bad air out and good air in as they straddle prostate over their victims for artificial respirations. 

But on Sunday afternoons they put on a different show for fire drill.  Then dad’s and youngsters gather around the fire hall to watch their business-like womenfolk go through the paces.

They climb ladders, uncouple hose, check fire extinguishers and fill the portable water tank.  Finally, the they houseclean the fire station to a spit polish finish.

All Are Mothers

The personnel of the brigade have changed often since its inception in May of 1945.  Mrs. Moffat is the only member left of the original team.  Last year Mrs. Earl Conaway, fire chief for 4 years, left to make her home in California.

All six of the women in the brigade are mothers: Mrs. James Vail, Mrs. Rau Butler and Mrs. James Bruce have one child apiece. Mrs. Konrad Kvale is a mother of 2 and Mrs. Edwin Nytray (daughter of Mr. Keller) has 3 children.

The fire engine is the property of the Port Angeles Fire Department.  Once a month Chief Clay Wolverton sees that it is inspected and kept in perfect mechanical condition.

“I guess our families are the martyrs in this cause”, remarked Mrs. Moffat.  “Our menfolk approve of our work and the youngsters are so proud of their firefighting mothers that at the first sound of the gong they rush to help as babysitters or whatever.  Their only peeve is that we forget to wear our fireman’s hats.”

But Chief Moffat, tall, stately, and hatless, doesn’t need a badge to show that she is no stranger to danger.

And in Gales Addition fear of fire has changed to faith in fire chief Moffat and her fighting firewomen.