West Side honors 'father figure'

December 14, 2011

He's the West Side Fire Department's "father figure."

West Side firefighters and friends honored Bob Nickelsen, longtime board member and former chief, in the annual holiday dinner at the Rockford station Saturday night.

"He's been around so long, as chief, board member, and his son is now chief, and he's carried on the tradition of fire service throughout the community," Fire Marshal Jim Trammell said. "He's our father figure."

Nickelsen is a retired orchardist and former Port of Hood River commissioner.

Chief Chris Nickelsen presented his father with a congratulatory certificate from the Oregon Fire Marshal's office, as well as a transcript from the Congressional Record recognizing Nickelsen's long service.

That came courtesy of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, of Hood River, who also sent West Side Fire an American flag that hung over the U.S. Capitol Building in Nickelsen's honor.

Nickelsen remains a board member who participates regularly in the business of the district, according to Trammell.

"As a board member he still protects taxpayer revenues," Trammell, noting that Nickelsen is also one of the original individuals who initiated the student firefighter department that has trained and developed numerous firefighters over the years.

"Just look at the endurance of Bob," Trammell said. "I can't recall another 60-year veteran."

In Nickelsen's tenure as chief, he was instrumental in securing a government grant needed to build a second fire station on Tucker Road, a facility that was built in 1978 and named in his honor in 1998.

It was also under his watch that the fire department began dispatching "first responders" with the Hood River Ambulance Service.

Nickelsen joined the department tin 1951 at age 23, and has been with the department ever since. He served as chief from 1961-80, and has been a member of the West Side Fire District board of directors for the past 30 years.

During his tenure as chief the volunteer base, along with the department's skills and training, expanded greatly. The department had 32 firefighters in 1961 and grew to 50 under Nickelsen. (Today, West Side has about 60.)

Not only did the department build a second station on Tucker Road, to go with the Rockford station, it also saw improvements in fire tactics, apparatus and prevention programs.

"We used to go to out to save the chimney and foundation," Nickelsen said in a Nov. 29, 1979, article upon the announcement of retirement as chief. "Now we're equipped to stop the fire as soon as we arrive."

Nickelsen was orchardist of the year in 1967 and was named Volunteer of the Year by Special Districts of Oregon in 1997 for his leadership of the port and fire department.

In 2003, Nickelsen and Rob Hukari were honored as Diamond Pioneers by the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences.

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