Very few people still around can remember a time when there was no fire department on the Key Peninsula. Many local residents are involved with the department in some way: career firefighters and paramedics, civilian staff, commissioners, volunteers. The fire department is such an integral part of Key Peninsula life, one could easily assume it has always been here.

Fire District Division Chief Chuck West is “on duty” at one of the brand new grills at the department’s family picnic. Photo courtesy Diane Johnson

Fifty years ago, a house blaze on the KP kept burning until men and equipment arrived from Gig Harbor to douse it. By the time of their arrival, they found nothing but a pile of ashes where the house once stood. The name for the women’s auxiliary group became, appropriately, called Ashes.

Nearly 50 years ago, a battalion chief from Tacoma came out to the Key Pen and began the first fire department in Longbranch. Both men and women trained to serve local residents.

Marguerite Bussard, the current president of Ashes and longtime resident of Longbranch, was the wife of one of those early firefighters. “One day, the battalion chief handed me $20 and told me to start an auxiliary group,” she says.

Bussard began the group, serving as its president for several years. Ashes has grown and dwindled and grown again over the years, as people moved on and off the peninsula, retired or passed away. Some 20 years ago, while the group was floundering due to lack of members, Bussard was asked to resume her role as president and help keep it together. She has held that position ever since.

For years, Ashes has worked to raise money for the ambulance fund and other needs within the department. It has provided scholarship money for young men and women to use for department-related education. Earlier this year, the group joined with the firemen’s union and the firefighters association to buy a barbecue for each of the three full-time stations. On July 7, the firefighters hosted a barbecue picnic and invited the women of Ashes and their families to join them, as they used the barbecues for the first time.

Most recently, Ashes donated $100 to the M&M Ministry at Lakebay Community Church for a “Good To Go” pass for the church van used by ministry leader Howard Johnson and his team to pick up food donations across the bridge.

Diane Johnson of Lakebay, new secretary for the group, says, “Ashes helps people in our community in many ways. In addition to monetary help, they also send out get well, sympathy and hello-neighbor cards.”

The primary fundraiser for Ashes is an annual rummage sale at the Key Center firehouse, which was held on July 21. This event is usually accompanied by a pancake breakfast organized by the department.

The current membership of Ashes is 12 to 15 women. “It’s very hard to recruit new members,” Bussard reports with sadness. “We need more women, especially the younger ones, to help us be effective support for our fire department and our community.”

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