Olympic Mountain Rescue (Bremerton, Wash.) has recently become owners of its own headquarters, a significant milestone in this small unit’s history.
The team has gone from renting a small truck bay and meeting space in a community hall for more than 40 years to managing the entire 3,500-square-foot facility that includes two engine bays, a truck bay, and meeting and office space.
“The opportunity to become owners of our own facility was a dream for many years that didn’t seem possible,” said John Myers, OMR chairman. “We are so pleased now to have this building which affords us the room to store and maintain our equipment, and to host trainings and to grow. In the end, the mission of the team is strengthened and secured by this acquisition.”
OMR was formed in 1957 by a group of Bremerton climbers, and for the next 12 years, had no truck or place to store group gear, while meeting in a vacant classroom at the local community college. OMR members taught the basic mountaineering course at the college at the time that is still in existence today.
The unit obtained its first truck in 1974, an Army surplus crew cab pickup with an added canopy. It was stored at various members’ homes and garages but storage problems arose when a larger truck was purchased in 1978.
It was at this point that the unit started renting the single truck bay and meeting space at the Westgate Improvement Club in Bremerton, a community hall used by residents and the local fire department. OMR has been using this space since the late 1970s.
In December 2017, the managers of Westgate approached OMR’s board of directors about gifting the building to OMR, as the owners were getting older and wanted to hand off the maintenance to a group they knew would take the facility to the next level.
The donation of the building, which was built in 1962, included funding to update the building’s much needed deferred maintenance.
After research, meetings and the official transfer of ownership in Spring 2018, several dedicated OMR members started the huge effort to overhaul the aging building into OMR’s new headquarters, including improving the utilities and training areas.
Fire hose drying racks were removed, carpet was pulled up, a new heating system was installed, and fresh coats of paint were applied both inside and outside, in addition to plenty of deep cleaning. Outside, the parking lot was repaired and sealed, and 40 spaces were restriped. New outdoor lighting was installed, adding a significant level of safety to the neighborhood. Local homeowners stopped by often to show gratitude and appreciation for the new changes.
The building’s kitchen was converted into OMR’s Library, housing numerous mountaineering and climbing books generously donated by several members. The firehall’s original office and bunker spaces are used as a meeting place, storage for the radios and maintenance supplies, and coffee and snacks for middle-of-the-night missions. The Harold Brooks Community Center (named after an original member of the Westgate Improvement Club) continues to be available to the local community to rent for classes, gatherings, rummage sales and more.
In addition, a concession stand and storage building on the corner of the property, adjacent to baseball ballfields, is rented by a local PeeWees sports organization.
The building’s double engine bay is shared by OMR and the Kitsap branch of The Mountaineers for training and gear and truck storage. The single truck bay is rented to a local plumber for storage.
The last significant project is replacing the 57-year-old roof, original to the building, which has significant water, rot and carpenter ant damage. The unit has determined it will cost about $50,000 for roofing materials alone, as labor will be provided for free by OMR members. OMR is currently undergoing fundraising and grant writing efforts to find the money.
In the past year, owning the building has proved beneficial to the unit, utilizing it to its full potential, including hosting its own large-scale classroom training sessions, such as the annual two-day Search And Rescue Academy.
To celebrate nearly a year of hard work and ownership, the unit hosted an open house in August 2019 to show off the new building, which included attendance of community members, local Sheriff’s deputies, fellow Tacoma Mountain Rescue Unit members, and the Mayor of Bremerton and his wife.
Interactive booths allowed visitors to learn about aspects of mountain rescue, including rigging, APRS and InReach tracking demos. Members showed off the new library and provided a pro-level meal from some of the unit’s highly regarded chefs.
This winter, the unit was able to transform the normally industrial-like and fluorescent-lit space into a quaintly decorated dinner hall for OMR’s annual awards banquet and holiday potluck, hosting about 70 members, spouses and friends.
“We have wasted no time in converting the retired and underutilized spaces within the old fire station to our purposes,” Myers said. “As a result, we now have a clean, comfortable and useful space that this year has transformed our operations and has already paid dividends to us in the form of improved training facilities, community support and increased interest in membership. It’s really been a milestone year for our team.”