Spokane Fire Station No. 6: A Burning Issue

Originally constructed in 1900, Station No. 6 was first located at 504 E. 8th. This station was built entirely by the firefighters themselves, and although they did not get extra pay, they did get Sundays off, making volunteers easy to come by. In 1959, a fire protection improvement bond paved the way for the station to be completely rebuilt. During its grand opening in October, the 1st Annual Fire Prevention Week was also celebrated.

Contrary to popular belief, early Spokane Falls pioneers were not all white. In 1878, the first known black settler to move to the area was D.K. Oliver. He settled in Spokane Falls from Pennsylvania, and was a carpenter by trade. Oliver later served on the Spokane City Council. Other individuals of black ancestry who contributed to the development of Spokane were involved in railroad construction, served as deputy county treasurers, appointed state positions, federal positions, Spokane Club employees, business owners, newspaper creators (The Spokane Citizen), school district officials, attorneys, architects, and established churches, all before 1900. Another one of the initial black settlers, Joe Hagen, was the first black firefighter for Spokane Falls Volunteer Fire Department, becoming a member in 1889.

By 1975, SFD still had yet to hire its first female firefighter. In mid-1975, the SFD rushed to meet federal standards for hiring women in order to obtain federal funding. Many opponents were the wives of the firefighters. The Firefighters' Wives Service Club actively sought to prevent females from being hired with the department. One argument was that women lacked the physical strength for hauling bodies and knocking down doors. One councilman referred to the idea as "ridiculous," and a councilwoman suggested women would increase disability claims from "the heavy work."

However, the main argument was the idea of the "moral decay" that would ensue if men lived with woman in the stations. One wife commented that she would "move her bed down to the fire station" if need be. However, Chief Alfred L. O'Connor saw to it that the standards of the physical agility test were not compromised, and individuals would pass the tests based off of their own merit. Finally in 1989, Sherryl Dodge, Tammy Tibbles, and Andrea Walters made fire department history by becoming the first female fighters in Spokane. They successfully passed the physical test and their probationary year.

The cottage style Station No. 6 is now occupied by the Martin Luther King Memorial Center, a suitable occupant of the historic fire station.