Forks fire chief steps down after 44 years

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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FORKS — After 44 years of service, countless fires, car wrecks and medical emergency calls on the West End, Fire Chief Phil Arbeiter has stepped into the new year as a civilian.

Arbeiter, 67, officially retired Jan. 1, handing the reins of Forks-based Clallam County Fire District 1 to Bill Paul.

Arbeiter, who joined the department as a volunteer firefighter in 1969, said that when the fire chief’s position went unfilled, he took classes to become eligible, applied and was appointed chief by the fire commissioners in 1972.

“No one else wanted to do it,” Arbeiter said.

The department responds to as many as 180 calls per year, but in recent years the number of calls has decreased, he said.

For many of those years, the department had only one station in Forks, and later added the Beaver fire station.

It has responded to calls throughout the West End, including West Jefferson County.

Arbeiter also was the elected Forks mayor in the 1990s, and is a past president of West End Thunder drag racing club.

“Phil was always the consummate professional — a class act and a great guy. He made good decisions under pressure,” said the current Forks mayor, Bryon Monohon.

Monohon said that he has confidence that the new chief, trained by Arbeiter, “will come in with his feet under him.”

Arbeiter was an active and committed member of the Clallam County Fire Chiefs Association, said Port Angeles City Manager Dan McKeen, who was fire chief in Port Angeles for 13 years before stepping into the city manager position last year.

“He was always looking for a better way to approach things in his department,” McKeen said.

McKeen said that Arbeiter’s service as fire chief for 40 years is unusual, and that Forks is fortunate to have had him for so long.

“Phil has provided the Forks area with leadership that is needed for dependable fire service,” he said.

Arbeiter said he doesn’t plan to completely leave the fire department, at least not immediately.

When a fire broke out at a Department of Natural Resources garage just a day after turning over the chief’s title to Paul, Arbeiter acted as an adviser to the new fire chief.

He plans to stay in the support role at least through June.

“I said I’d be here as long as they need me,” Arbeiter said.

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at

Last modified: January 07. 2013 6:07PM
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