History of the Snohomish County Fire District 5

The Sultan Fire Department was founded in 1911 as a municipal fire department; all-volunteer on-call firefighters staffed it. The Sultan’s first town hall and fire station faced Fourth Street and were in the same building. This was before Stevens Pass Highway (US 2) was moved to its current location, bypassing Sultan’s Main Street. Dr. Copple’s Chiropractic and Massage offices are now located there. The fire department’s first two fire engines, a 1937 Chevrolet “Howe” and a 1923 Ford “Model T” are pictured to the right. Also pictured are volunteer firefighters from the late 1930s, Adolph Rode, Ellis Warner, Howard Cass, Vernon Love, Bob Heckman, Don Fulcher, Bob Donaldson, unknown, Alan Dunlap, and Walt Champman.

Snohomish County Fire Protection District 5 was formed on March 19, 1945, to provide fire protection to properties in the unincorporated town of Startup and areas surrounding the town of Sultan. The newly created fire district’s first Fire Commissioners were George Startup, Nate Baxter, and Chas Tiffany. Before the founding of the Fire Protection District, the town of Sultan provided this service. The town was not compensated for these services. In 1939 the State of Washington Legislature passed Chapter 60 of the Laws of 1933. This allowed the creation of “fire protection districts outside cities and towns. The district, upon its creation, contracted with the town of Sultan to provide fire protection services.

In 1992, the City of Sultan was annexed into the Fire District; this formally merged the two jurisdictions. The Fire District then took over the administration and day-to-day operations of the fire department. The Fire District Commissioners appointed its first Fire Chief Ted Casey.

In 1998, the fire district hired Merlin Halverson, a career Lieutenant with Lynnwood fire department, as a part-time fire chief.

In 1999, the district hired its first two full-time firefighters (Ron Bertholf and Scott Clark) to supplement the on-call volunteer firefighters. The fire district hired its third full-time firefighter (Tim Tullis) in 1993 (2002).

The full-time firefighters strengthened the on-call volunteer firefighters’ response to emergency calls. This allowed the district to have two firefighters on duty during the daytime, Monday through Friday. On-call volunteers continued to staff evenings, overnight, and weekends.

2004 Chief Halverson retired from Lynnwood Fire and was promoted to the full-time fire chief.

In 2004, the fire district purchased 7 acres on the south side of US2, one-quarter mile east of Sultan Basin Road. The property had two houses on the property, and one house was converted into the district administrative offices and physical training room. The other house was converted into sleeper quarters for our volunteer firefighters to sleep in as our current station had no sleeper dorms. A pole building was built to house A51.

The district received a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2006. The SAFER grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase or maintain the number of trained, “front-line” firefighters available in their communities. With these additional three full-time firefighters, the district was able to staff the fire station with three firefighters/EMTs during the daytime (6 am- 6pm). The overnight response continued to be covered by on-call volunteer firefighters/EMTs.

Over the next 10 years, the district increased its on-duty volunteer staffing. Moving away from a “respond from home” staffing model by putting the volunteer in the station during the day and in the sleeper quarters at night greatly improved our response times for at least EMS calls.

In 2015, due to the gradual shift of our volunteer firefighters not living in the Sultan community, the district converted most of the existing volunteers to part-time employees. During this transition, the part-time firefighters were required to work a minimum of 48 hours each month. Part-time or the remaining volunteer firefighters that lived in the district were encouraged to continue to respond as on-call and work shifts overnight.

In late 2017, the board of commissioners agreed to move forward in building a new fire station. The city of Sultan’s mayor Carolyn Eslick, Sultan School District’s Superintendent Dan Chaplik and Snohomish County Sheriff Office, along with Snohomish County Fire Chief Merlin Halverson, lobbied the State for a Capital Improvement Grant for $1.5 million to help build a Public Safety Center that included room for a much-needed community Emergency Operation Center (EOC). Much, if not all, of the City’s, School and Police’s infrastructure is located in the lower area (about 110 feet above sea level) of the city. Our highest risk is major flooding or a Culmback Dam failure, which, if happened, this whole area would be under 45 feet of water.

In 2018, the fire district hired Lawhead Architects, and conceptual drawings were created, and those drawings were refined to come up with a plan to build a Public Safety Center with; 4 double deep bay station with an open bay, 7 sleeper dorms, physical training room, and kitchen/ dayroom. It also had a community meeting room that will also be used as the department’s meeting room/ emergency operation center (EOC). Administrative offices were also added to accommodate the district secretaries and chief officers.

In 2019, part-time Firefighter Jeff Williams was hired full-time to replace a full-time firefighter that had left in 2014. The position was left unfilled due to financial constraints.

New Fire Station

The voters approved the new Public Safety Center on April 23rd, 2019, with 63.2% approval. The new fire station will improve response times and other operational efficiencies. The District purchased 6 acres on US2 just east of Sultan Basin Road in 2004, The design phase was started in late 2017. The District hired Lawhead Architects P.S. to design and engineer the new facility. The Fire District awarded the construction contract to TRICO Companies in June 2020 to construct the new Public Safety Center.

The new fire station has parking for seven apparatus along with dormitories, offices, and related items to house our first responders. The facility also has a large meeting/training room for the department and public gatherings. This room has been designed to host the local Emergency Operation Center (EOC). During a local emergency such as a major flood, windstorm, railroad or highway incident, or dam failure, this room will serve the communities public/private response agencies as a command post. Currently, all the public facilities City, Police, and Schools are in the flood or inundation zone and may not be available.

In April 2019, the issue was brought to the community to approve the funding package of issuing $8 million in General Obligation Bonds. The issue passed with 63.2% approval.

In May 2020, the district awarded the construction contract to TRICO Companies of Burlington, WA.. They started the project in June 2020 and completed the project in August 2021.

In September 2021, the fire district personnel had completely moved into the new fire station. The district’s “station 51” officially moved to the new Public Safety Center, and the old fire station was officially named “Station 52”. For the first time in the Sultan community, the firefighters were able to reside in the same building that housed its fire apparatus and EMS vehicles, providing a much quicker response time than in previous years.

Although the new fire station added four double deep apparatus bays, sleeping dorms, a large meeting room, and administrative offices, the district needed to keep and maintain the existing fire station at 304 Alder Ave to house its second fire engine, brush engine, and BLS ambulance. The new fire station also was not designed to provide the needed storage for out-of-season equipment.

Personnel Changes

The Fire District hired Seth Johnson, Fire Chief for West Benton Regional Fire Authority, for the position of Assistant Fire Chief in December 2021.

Chief Halverson retired at the end of 2021 after 24 years of serving as the District’s Fire Chief.

Assistant Chief Johnson was promoted to Fire Chief on January 1st, 2022.

The fire district determined that the past practice of contracting for advanced life support (paramedics) services from neighboring districts was no longer appropriate due to the demand for those services and increased costs, so in December of 2022, the district hired three full-time firefighters/paramedics to launch our very own advanced life support program. This means those serious medical calls will receive a higher level of care, arriving much sooner than before, and advanced cardiac, respiratory, and trauma care can begin in minutes.

Chief Merlin Halverson

Early Horse-Drawn Fire Equipment

Early Fire Engines – 1920s- 1940s

Historic Fire Station Mural