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As It Was: Woman Becomes Fire Chief in Butte Falls, Ore.

In 1963, lightning struck the house of Charles and Ruth Capello in the small logging town of Butte Falls, Ore., burning it to the ground.  The community’s old fire truck had a dead battery and the Forest Service was not prepared to fight a house fire.

That event inspired the Capellos to establish a volunteer fire department with a chief, trained fire fighters and new equipment.  Ruth attended most training sessions as her husband became the second fire chief.  She raised her four children in between visiting all the Jackson County rural fire departments to learn best practices.

Tragedy struck the family again in 1971 when a logging accident killed Charles.

In 1973, Mrs. Capello became the fire chief as she was probably the best trained of the volunteers.  She had no trouble qualifying, passing the physical by carrying a fellow volunteer down a ladder from a second-story window.

Capello received many accolades in the 1970s as the only female fire executive in Oregon.  She always wished there were more women firefighters.

She followed her own advice, which was “Do what you are needed to do.”

Source: Stanley, Denise. "BF Fire Chief is State’s Only Woman." Medford Mail Tribune, 19 Feb. 1978, p. B1.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.