The firehouse doors of Captain Michael Blair and Bay Watch Engine 34 opened to the public on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon along the shoreline in Emeryville for the Firehouse Tour, with the firemen themselves leading tours and including Probationary Firefighter David Caovilla. Caovilla said some calls go well and some go badly but for today the firemen in uniform opened their home away from home to the public and hosted a BBQ in the yard overlooking the water. It felt more like a summer rental and having the neighbors over for hotdogs and chips. Except for the clean shaven young men in immaculate uniforms and physical condition. And the gleaming trucks with open doors and toddlers inside wearing black plastic fire helmets. One little girl raised her hand with enthusiasm to volunteer at the fire pole demonstration and said she could make crepes in the fire house kitchen. The video captures Probationary Firefighters Christian Randall and David Caovilla demonstrating, Caovilla in action.
Indoors looked clinical and pristine, all new and in order while through the picture windows on the second floor the sun shined through trees and reflected off the bay, making the busy 880 traffic and the maze seem far removed, like a mirage. Bay Watch Engine 34 is unique in that the new station houses those with on-the-water training for say, rescuing windsurfers, kite boarders and sailors. The Coast Guard renders the fire department support upon arrival. Yet Bay Watch lives on site, works as far as San Francisco and has one of Alameda County’s Zodiac rafts which launches from the Emeryville Marina. The lightweight inflatables can be hand carried by three. Caovilla said that diving is usually handled by the sheriff since divers bring up evidence or retrieve bodies.
Mutual dependence and teamwork; a fireman’s world in casual picture collage
Fireman Caovilla led a tour of about fifteen including a few excited children who liked the fire pole demonstration, which upon inspection looks more challenging than it sounded, considering the gate and the gap between the edge of the floor and the pole itself. Three poles remain in Alameda County. Firemen still clean and polish the pole and take care to land square on their feet rather than with ankles wrapped around the pole.
Today only photos reveal the excitement and drama that makes up daily life. Photos taken informally and placed in collages show a range from hamming it up in uniform to lofty perches at the Loma Prieta earthquake and firemen on the tower’s broken expanse. Photo albums lay open downstairs in the garage, showing firemen repelling in harnesses down the side of a building from a window. The mother of Captain Michael Blair sat there near the photo albums, near the red licorice bin, with her professional camera. She pointed out her son with his uniform on and his smooth shaved head. Little girls sat on the gym equipment and held onto adult size basket or footballs as if they were dolls. Meanwhile on the walls some formal shots in black and white date back to Emeryville 1925 with horse-drawn fire trucks.
Caovilla said the firemen meet around the big rectangular dinner table with picture windows all around and talk over events regularly. Sometimes a call goes well. Sometimes a call goes badly. Jimmy Sinkay, just one of the young firemen at the BBQ downstairs, told a story of delivering a baby girl right at the fire station door late one night. The mother started having the baby on the freeway and Emeryville was the first station the couple could find. Jimmy Sinkay says he has delivered seven babies but wears the pink stork pin for this particular birth.
The station’s communal features
A young officer wearing an Hawaiian turtle medallion from his mentor and serving coffee at the BBQ said recruitment targets men 18 to 24. Sometimes the older ones seem more mature and can study with more focus. Caovilla said he is married and has two children and so when he spends two nights a week at the station, it’s his other family. The living quarters do look communal but clinical. There’s no decoration, it’s all functional. There’s a big spacious kitchen with an island in the center. A big wooden rectangular table with a flat screen mounted in the corner takes up the whole dining room. A BBQ has been mounted on the little veranda over the back courtyard. Sleeping quarters have two military style twin size beds and lockers along with a flat screen tv. There’s a gym with new equipment including a stationery bike, treadmill and free weights. It’s mandatory said Caovilla. There are flashing lights throughout the house that get triggered when a call comes in over the radios. The dispatch center is in Livermore and firemen listen to each other’s calls. The garage holds more gym equipment, bright yellow surf boards, long dining tables, racks holding the heavy fire coats, heavy helmets, heavy boots.
From Iraq diplomatic corp at the embassy to Emeryville firehouse hotdogs
Everybody needs to depend on each other. He noted as he showed the guests the three leather recliners that recruits are warned not to even think about the lounge. Yet the guests jumped into the three chairs and pushed back with feet elevated, no invitation necessary. It seemed like a logical conclusion to that to head downstairs for hotdogs grilling inside a firetruck grill. Not just any old Ikea hotdog but vegetarian, chicken and pork. No beef. No beer and no wine, just bottled water and good coffee along with selections of chips. A reservist arranged the buns neatly on white paper napkins. Lean and chiseled and clean shaven, the handsome young man is about to be married after proposing in Hawaii. He worked in the diplomatic protection corp in Iraq in the massive new embassy where no photos are allowed, before returning to the States and going to college.
For more information: Alameda County Fire Department