This 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 4-Door Station Wagon known in our community as the "Shirlee Ann" was named in honor of 11 month old Shirlee Ann Howell who died on January 2, 1955. Placed in service January 1956 the original Shirlee Ann rescue vehicle, and those that followed, provided unique support to our community for 47 years. In 2002, staffing changes and budget concerns forced the retirement of a dedicated first aid response vehicle at Fire Station No. 22.
The Shirlee Ann Fund continues today to assist Fire Station No. 22 with needed equipment and training. The Shirlee Ann Fund is overseen by a committee of six local residents and business owners. For information on how you can support the Shirlee Ann Fund contact: Shirlee Ann Fund, P.O. Box 83826, Portland, OR 97283.
On January 2, 1955, six days before her first birthday, a little girl named Shirlee Ann Howell choked to death on a grape. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Howell, had returned from the grocery store then Mrs. Howell left the room to feed the family dog. During her brief absence Shirlee Ann put a Tokay grape in her mouth and it lodged in her throat. The panicky parents tried desperately to aid her but to no avail so they hurried her to the St. Johns police station for help. The police immediately summoned the firemen, now located in their new building a block away, but they too were helpless without a inhalator-respirator. Quickly they placed Shirlee Ann into a police car and raced to Emanuel Hospital. Sadly Shirlee Ann was pronounced dead on arrival. At the time the nearest resuscitator was located downtown, at Engine No. 1. The firemen felt the child's life might have been saved with this inhalator-respirator had it not been located so far away.
When the facts were related to Mrs. Victor Van Alstine and Jewell Sundquist, they began the ground work for a community project which they hoped would save time and possibly lives. At the same time the child's parents were determined to begin a community project to raise funds for an emergency hospital in the community. The women contacted local firemen who talked with Fire Chief Boatright. He approved the project and listed the cost of the basic inhalator-respirator equipment at $800.
Mrs. Van Alstine and Mrs. Howell wrote to Commissioner Stanley Earl to ask that the City "man and maintain" the equipment after the funds were raised. Commissioner Earl was aware of the inadequacy of emergency equipment in the north district and promised the project 100% backing. He met with the two women and reporters from both daily newspapers (the Oregon Journal, now defunct, and the Oregonian). The letter was presented at a board meeting and approved. Commissioner Earl added, however, that he hoped the fund would extend to the cost of a fully equipped emergency first aid car.
This meeting was followed by a January 20, 1955 St. Johns Review article by Jewel Sundquist, detailing the background of the need for a first aid vehicle and the meeting with City officials. Cooperation in fund raising was requested from civic clubs, fraternal clubs, lodges, PTA organizations, churches, the Community Club, and others.
In three months the "Resuscitator Fund" had reached the $1,000 mark. A week later that grew to nearly $1,300. Donations came from widely diverse sources: St. Johns Auto Parts, Skyline American Legion Post #172, Portsmouth Motor Company, Fred Bauer Chevrolet, Portland Manufacturing Company, George School PTA (and all other schools' PTA's) Rebekah Lodge, Pay-N-Takit, Wonder Bakery, Plywood Veneer Workers Local 2531, Oregon Grape Circle, Pythian Sisters, Assumption School, Steinfields, Sunshine Seekers Garden Club, Peninsula - St. Johns Merchants Committee, Boy Scouts Contribution Project, Mrs. Howell, Carpenters and Joiners of America #583, Linnton Plywood, Mrs. Wright's Ta Shuto Group, Trail Seekers Campfire, 4-H Clubs and many private individuals.
Local talent performed at a "Resuscitator Fund" benefit sponsored by St. Johns American Legion Post #98, held at James John School. Entertainers included Wes Fenning and his Wood Shed 6, Virginia "Becker" Nolan, dancer and singer who recently returned from Hollywood, Irene Swanson and Viola Hawks in duet vocals, Elmer Luse, talented violinist, Tootsie Haner Reiner, professional soloist, boy's ensemble from Roosevelt High School, Celia Burley, her magic piano and talented dancers from Burley School of Dance, Geraldine Sothern and Jean Hanson with several vocal selections, and the comical 98er hot shot band of the American Legion Post #98 Auxiliary.
During the fund raising months local fireman brought a First Aid Station Wagon to the Peninsula U.S. Bank parking lot on three Saturdays to show and explain the equipment it carried. The vehicle was equipped to revive three persons at the same time. Not only did it carry an inhalator-respirator but also a cot, stretcher, tourniquets, splints, burn treatment items, material for bleeding, antidotes for poisoning, a doctor's kit, blankets, sheets and ropes (if they needed to rope off an area). Because of its efficiency and added speed in traffic, the station wagon was used more often in small accidents than the larger disaster vehicles. In case of a major catastrophe it could suffice until the major disaster vehicle arrived.
Jewell Sundquist reported that every fireman was fully qualified to administer first aid. Every two years they were required to attend the instructor's First Aid Class, taught by the nation's top instructors. They attended two hour sessions once a week for ten weeks and must pass an hour's written examination.
In April 1955 Larry Hirschman, chairman of the Peninsula - St. Johns Merchants Committee, announced that May 6 would be the day on which participating merchants would donate a percentage of their profits to the Shirlee Ann Fund. By then a demonstration resuscitator had been assigned to the St. Johns Fire Station. It's use could be requested by calling UN 0579. Fund raising continued toward the new goal of financing a first aid car to carry the new equipment.
By May 1955, the fund had reached a total of $2,584.36. St. Johns businessmen (Coronet, B & C Department Store, Shannon Auto Supply, Western Auto Supply, Bonham & Currier, The Man's Shop, Peninsula Diamond Shop, St, Johns Hardware, St. Johns Rexall, Tidewater Associated Station, and Radke Auto Electric) contributed $237.50 during that time. The St. Johns Christian Church it was noted in the May 19, 1955 issue of the St. Johns Review became the first church to donate toward what was now being called the Shirlee Ann Fund.
A June 7 date was planned for "Dinner is Served" at Skyline School, sponsored by Skyline American Legion Post #172, the Grange, the PTA and the County Sheriffs. It was their combined contribution to the Shirlee Ann drive.
Around June 30th Don Lind (then treasurer of the St. Johns Businessmen's Club) announced the Shirlee Ann account now totaled $3,738.41. Don began writing letters to the Mayor and Council, asking them to take the necessary steps to transfer these funds from the Shirlee Ann account to the City Purchasing Department. The City Council accepted the donation, but not without some embarrassment to it and the Fire Commissioner Stanley W. Earl. The embarrassment came from the hard financial fact that keeping the car manned around the clock would require six men, a payroll outlay of $25,000 a year not previously considered in the fire bureau budget. Under terms of the city charter amended by which the city of St. Johns became a part of Portland, a crew of five firemen must be maintained at the St. Johns station to fight fires so the personnel could not be split. "Maybe we'll just have to have the fire apparatus make every run with the first aid car whether there is a fire or not", Commissioner Earl commented.
On August 18th the Shirlee Ann check presentation ceremony was held at a Portland Council Meeting. Attending were Mrs. Wilma Van Alstine, Mrs. Jewel Sundquist, Don Lind, Mayor Fred L. Peterson and Fire Commissioner Stanley W. Earl. The final contribution was $3,791.00. A station wagon was to be purchased from a local car dealer, and the demonstration resuscitator temporarily located at the St. Johns Fire Station would be purchased for use in the first aid station wagon.
Finally, dedication ceremonies for the Shirlee Ann emergency car were held on a Saturday afternoon, January 28, 1956, in the new St. Johns Fire station on N. Alta Street. At 6:30 PM following the ceremony, the first aid station wagon climbed Germantown Road to Skyline American Legion Hall with siren sounding and blinker lights flashing, a very effective picture in the icy snow storm. Citizens viewed the equipment and complimented fireman Glen Whalen for his efficiency in demonstrating first aid equipment.
In the following years one major purchase (and the first such equipment in the City) was the Hurst tool,"Jaws of Life", designed to cut through a car's metal, allowing rescuers to reach accident victims more quickly. Equipment purchases made through the Shirlee Ann Trust Fund have included dive-rescue equipment, advance medical equipment, a medical reference library, the "high angle rope rescue equipment" first used in August 1993 to bring up the driver of a car who had gone over the steep N. Willamette Boulevard embankment, a Zoll Defibrillator, and when Emergency Rescue Vehicles were phased out, a fully equipped Zodiac rescue boat to carry on the search and rescue mission of the Shirlee Ann.
After the first vehicle was put into service 60 years ago, the open Shirlee Ann Trust Fund continues to receive community support ear-marked for equipment not in the City's budget. People have contributed over the years as memorials to loved ones, in lieu of flowers, as have many appreciative people who have been helped by the paramedics.
The "Shirlee Ann" has become an integral part of the community with an almost possessive attitude evidenced by anyone who has been involved in an emergency in the area to which the "Shirley Ann" responded. With a response time of less than four minutes the "Shirlee Ann" was faster than normal ambulance response time.
Station Company 22 and the "Shirlee Ann" covered a large service area on the North Portland Peninsula: St. Johns, the Linnton community, the Rivergate Industrial Complex, Burlington, and the West Hills area. Because of the geographical location of these communities and the industrial areas, having the "Shirlee Ann" based in St. Johns allowed for a very low response time on emergency calls.
Resources for the Shirlee Ann article published in St. Johns Heritage booklet Volume 5 included the St. Johns Review (1/20/55 - 1/25/56). Original story was researched by Joan and Austin Brown, then compiled by Barbara R. Pamelee in 1997.
Recommended reading: Vol. 112 - No. 10 May 15, 2015 St. Johns Review article "60 Year Old Shirlee Ann Fund Still Important for Community"
The latest "Shirlee Ann" - 2016 GMC Savana