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History shines bright at Bremerton Fire Department

Retired Capt. Ed Swan and Lt. John Hawkins work on reassembling the Bremerton Fire Department’s original hand-drawn hose cart. Swan refinished the cart in his shop at home over the past three years as a way of honoring those firefighters who had come before him.  - Photo by James Mange
Retired Capt. Ed Swan and Lt. John Hawkins work on reassembling the Bremerton Fire Department’s original hand-drawn hose cart. Swan refinished the cart in his shop at home over the past three years as a way of honoring those firefighters who had come before him.
— image credit: Photo by James Mange

With condos springing up, and the tunnel digging down, there’s no standing in the way of progress in downtown Bremerton. But to keep things in perspective, and honor the city’s past, all you have to do is traipse a couple of blocks north to the Bremerton Fire Department headquarters on Park Avenue.

At the 911 address, retired captain Ed Swan has added to the historic collection of fire-fighting equipment on display in the lobby with his loving restoration of the department’s original hand-drawn hose cart.

The cart was the department’s first piece of firefighting gear, authorized by the city council on September 22, 1902. At a cost of $175, the cart from the Gorm Rubber Company was part of an original purchase which also included hooks, ladders and firefighting buckets. Today, thanks in large part to Swan’s diligent work, the cart is easily worth several thousand dollars as a collectible.

“I’ve always had an interest in firefighting history,” Swan said. “Especially the history of the Bremerton Fire Department.”

The BFD history started on May 13, 1902, when the Bremerton City

Council established a committee to form a fire department. By August 6 of that year, 24 men had enrolled as volunteers. By the end of 1903 the city had modernized the department, adding its first horse drawn hose and ladder wagon, but money for a horse team wasn’t allocated until 1904.

As an example of how far the department has come, by the end of 1903 there was 2,000 feet of hose to connect to 35 hydrants throughout the city, but by the end of the BFD’s centennial year, there was 9,000 feet of hose and 1,356 hydrants.

Capt. Swan was part of the department’s history for 33 and a half years, before retiring three years ago. That’s when he started work on the hand-drawn cart. The cart was rediscovered back in the 1980s, when it was found at the Kitsap Lake Fire Station, which at that time was not part of the BFD. “We have no idea how it ended up there,” Swan said. “It was probably somebody like me who has an interest in history and probably decided to save it.” Now Swan has gone beyond saving it. It’s a work of art.

Swan reports most of the cart was in good condition, but the wheels were in dire straits. Spokes had been wired together in the five and a half foot diameter wheels, but Swan’s restoration is nearly perfect. The biggest part of the job was sanding the cart down through many layers of paint. When Swan peeled back enough paint, he found the outlines of the original pin striping on the wheels, and he has reproduced it.

That type of detailing is just what Swan has done so well before, as he was responsible for the pin striping and scroll work on the 1930 fire truck that also sits in the lobby on Park Avenue. The restoration of a 1940s alarm box is also part of Swan’s handiwork, and a feature of the department’s display.

Now that he’s done with this project to honor those fire fighters who came before him, Swan plans on changing direction slightly, and diving in on his pair of 1940 Ford automobiles. “That will probably keep me busy until the end of my retirement,” Swan said.

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