Old fire engine to be Billingsley's hearse

By Michelle Dupler, Herald staff writerJanuary 11, 2011 

The number 1 was a recurring theme in James Billingsley's life.

He was the first paid firefighter to serve in the Kennewick Fire Department -- hired on July 1, 1950, and working at Station 1.

And he was the first person to donate $1,000 toward establishing a Kennewick Firefighters Museum.

So it seems fitting somehow that he will be carried to his final resting place on the "Old No. 1" fire engine -- the restored motorized fire engine that was the first of its kind to be used in town -- after the funeral service remembering him at Mueller's Chapel of the Falls at 314 W. First Ave. at 1 p.m. today -- 1/11/11.

Billingsley, 86, died Friday at Hospice at the Chaplaincy in Kennewick.

He was a native of Portland and 1942 graduate of Kennewick High School.

He served in World War II, and became a volunteer firefighter for Kennewick after being honorably discharged from the Army in April 1946.

Four years later, he was hired as the city's first paid firefighter. He went on to earn the rank of captain before retiring in 1975.

Billingsley's granddaughter, Tiffany Johnson of Kennewick, said her grandfather's connection to the fire department remained important to him long after his retirement.

He was active with the Kennewick Retired Firefighters Association and was a founding member of the group working to establish a firefighters museum.

"It was something he was passionate about," Johnson said. "He spent a lot of time with the fire department, and even after he retired he continued to maintain close friendships."

Retired Kennewick firefighter Bud Cleavenger remembered Billingsley on Monday as someone always calm in a crisis, and with new firefighters just learning the job.

"I never saw that man get excited on any fire," he said. "He taught me to stay calm. He was real patient with me."

Cleavenger worked under Billingsley when Billingsley was a fire captain and described him as "like a father."

"He was absolutely great," he said. "I'm gonna miss him."

The family has asked that donations be made to Kennewick Firefighters Museum Inc., c/o Marty Koebler, 5225 W. Clearwater Ave., Apt. E1, Kennewick, Wash., 99336, in lieu of flowers.

w Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com

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