Saturday, December 4

A memorable tour!

On Friday Karla and I visited the busiest fire station in Fresno. Luke’s cousin, Brian, had lent us some tools that we were returning to him. Brian is a fire captain and suggested that we meet at one of his workplaces, the Chinatown station in Fresno. He gave us an hour-long gold-plated tour!

Karla and I got to sit in the cab of a 100-foot ladder truck and imagine how difficult it was to drive such a ponderous machine. It takes everyone in the cab to watch out for traffic and obstacles due to the vision-blocking overhang of the platform out front, making it impossible to see an overhead traffic signal. It has a nozzle on it that can shoot a thousand gallons of water per minute. It was the first time we ever sat in an $800,000+ vehicle.

We toured the sleeping quarters, the kitchen, the exercise room, the maintenance shop, the big bathroom and showers with 1930s fixtures that are still in use. Gorgeous mosaic tile floor—makes you drool.

Brian challenged us, several times, to take a slide down any of the four shiny brass poles from the upper floor to the lower floor where the engines were parked. We demurred, citing, in my case, geezerness.

The station was built in 1877. Originally made of wood, it was replaced in 1933 with a concrete structure. Brian told us that the concrete was so hard they recently wore out two carbide drills and spent a whole morning trying to simply drill a hole to stick something onto one of the walls. The structure’s bottom-floor ceiling was too low so it was necessary to lower the floor in order to accommodate modern equipment. Even now, he says, he hates to back some of the engines in, worrying about scraping the ceiling. I suggested they let air out of the tires, then pump them up once they leave the building. But that would delay getting to the fire, something that’s not favored by firefighters who strive to go from deep sleep to being on the truck in a minute or less.

He confessed that many firefighters are pyromaniacs at heart, but choose to stay legal by joining the profession. One of the bosses at the station is big on setting up drills. He often starts a fire in the four-story concrete practice structure in back of the station, getting the crew out of bed at the randomest times to put it out. I noticed that the big Dumpsters out back were pretty rusted out, indicating that their contents had burned repeatedly. I guess that saves on garbage pick-up charges.

Behind the station was half a city block full of pristine shiny fire engines. Brian explained that they were out-of-service trucks ready to ship off to smaller engine companies, mostly in Mexico. They were in immaculate condition, but he explained that they were near the end of their service life in an environment where perfect reliability was demanded.

We toured the shed where several brand-new engines were being fitted out with the specific equipment for Fresno’s needs. It was a brick structure way over a hundred years old, and held machine tools that probably could be used to rebuild a whole truck if needed. Milling machines, drill presses, lathes, metal-benders of every sort and some old metal-clad wooden workbenches made my heart yearn for the possibilities that such equipment could enable. Brian said the shop has been in continuous use from way back in the days when hand-pumped fire wagons were pulled by horses. That explains the subtle, lingering scent of ancient horse manure.

Even though I had always imagined what to expect when visiting a fire station, the reality was way more than I thought. The place was immaculate; the floors gleamed, the walls were spotless, everything made of brass shone. The fire trucks didn’t have even a fingerprint marring their glassy-shiny bodies. There was nothing out of place, no messes. It felt like someone was continually on duty making it a showplace for a very prominent visitor. Makes me feel like a total slob. Thanks, Brian. I needed that.

Today I spent all morning spiffying-up the kitchen. More to come on that, for sure, till the memory of my fire station visit fades. Then I can relax.

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