Growing Up in Alameda: More like a sepulcher than a place of laughter

Growing Up in Alameda: More like a sepulcher than a place of laughter

Dave LeMoine

Fire Station 3 is positioned on a corner in the center of town. I always liked responding from this station as we covered both ends of the city and didn’t have those infernal ambulances. Built in 1923, it has two single apparatus rooms: one faces Pacific and the other faces Grand. A long path cuts through the grass to a brick porch with two steps up, under a metal awning to the heavy oak door.

In 1949, Alameda celebrated its centennial. Not to be outdone by the other stations, Station 3’s crews tore down the back fence and used the old wood to make a saloon facade. The men of Alameda were told not to shave under penalty of arrest and incarceration during the days of this celebration. Clean-shaven men were put in the hoosegow (a trailer with bars surrounding) on Park Street and Santa Clara Avenue. Great fun.

I started negotiating Station 3’s steps at age 3, when Mom and I would visit Dad. The station has windows on either side of the front door; the sign above makes it clear that you have arrived at Station 3 of the Alameda Fire Department. The left (or Pacific) wing contains a hall with lockers and the main dorm extending to Engine 4’s apparatus bay. The right wing contained the office, officers’ dorm, and Engine 3’s apparatus bay. On the inside wall was a storage room, bathroom and turnout/phone room.

Behind Engine 3 was a small workout room and shop. There’s nothing better for the lungs than to be riding the Aerodyne exercise bike when E-3 starts its engine … choke, cough!

Upon entering the front door of this station 12 years after my retirement, all of my senses are revived as the memories flooded in. But now, in 2006, the building has been condemned. The living area sits empty and the feel is more like a sepulcher then a place of laughter and music. The sound of the auxiliary generator and chain saws being tested are gone. Shadows invade every area; the cold and slightly musty smell cannot eliminate the warmth in my heart for this wonderful building.

I have great memories of the years of service to its community, with the guys sitting on the front porch on Sunday afternoons in the fall talking to kids as they walked by, or waxing the engine as we waited for the next, inevitable emergency. We even had time in those days to paint the Goodyear lettering on the tires. Then, to see my family arrive for a visit, as Mom and I had done so many years before. This was good stuff!

Some things need to be saved; new is not always better. The floors in the station are not waxed anymore, but strewn with all kinds of debris. The kitchen where we cooked 100 tons of popcorn is now in need of Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. Only the apparatus rooms are being used now; life has moved next door to a Victorian.

As I walk through this wonderful building, I feel as though I’m attending a wake at the home I lived in for 13 years. After 62 years in and around this sanctuary, the smell has changed. The feeling has gone from warmth to cold, from light to dark, from laughter to quiet, from clean and waxed to debris-strewn and dusty. Now the smell of dry rot has replaced the smell of life. The district map that I colored so many years ago still hangs in the hallway. I look quickly to see if my secret is still on the map, and it is. Some traditions are still here. Goodbye, old friend!