Saturday, as part of Neighbor Appreciation Day, Seattle fire stations are all open for tours 11 am-3 pm. This’ll be the last Neighbor Appreciation Day for Station 37, since its replacement is under construction a short distance away. A student journalist accepted our challenge to tell its story before it’s too late.
(A video tour inside West Seattle’s Fire Station 37)
Story and video by Nicholas Trost
University of Washington News Lab
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
When Fire Station 37 (map) shuts down later this year, it will be sorely missed. Those firefighters lucky enough to have worked at the station appreciate its unique appeal and residential feel.
“The station feels and looks like home,” said firefighter Jorge Bernal, who currently works there. “When you’re away for 24 hours at a time, it’s a comforting place to be.”
The station has the ambience of a residential home. Upstairs there’s a nook with a couch and television where firefighters can go and rest. The living room is also similar to one you would find in any home, with low lighting and comfortable-looking furniture.
“There are cool areas where you can go away and relax for a bit,” said Lt. Lori Bish, a firefighter also at the station. “Not all places have those areas.”
Sadly, Station 37 is no longer able to adequately serve the Seattle Fire Department. At only 4,148 square feet, the station is too small to accommodate firefighters of the 21st century and their equipment.
“We have to move,” said Bish.
“There is not enough room here for our fire engines. This is now a historical building. The size of our rigs has gotten too big.”
Over the years, Station 37 has been remodeled to stay current with the times. Some years back, for example, the city improved the restrooms to make them suitable for women.
The new station, located on the southeast corner of 35th SW and SW Holden, will be state-of-the-art, and will provide the firefighters with more room:
Though the new fire station promises to be spectacular, many of the firefighters are still not sold on the idea.
“From what I believe it is going to be more industrial, sterile,” said firefighter Brian Shaner. “It is going to be institutionalized, very cookie-cutter. Every room will have the same layout, same appliances. The character is lost.”
And though many amenities come with the new building, the crew at Station 37 likes things the way they are.
“New things are cool,” said driver Tiffany Colman. “But sometimes you don’t need them.”
Though the new Fire Station 37 will be much different, and arguably less nostalgic than the old one, the city has nevertheless deemed it necessary.
“Supposedly when Greg Nickels was mayor he wanted all the fire stations to be earthquake-ready,” said Bernal. “Everything has to be retrofitted. This new station conforms to that idea.”
The new station will also provide the crew with proximity to a busier zone in which to work.
“The station isn’t busy enough at this location,” said Galen Thomaier, official Seattle Fire Department historian. “The new location will also give the crews more of a presence.”
When asked what should happen to the old station, the firefighters had many ideas. Some think it will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, others think it will continue to be owned by the city, but no one knows for sure. (Editor’s note: It’s supposed to be put up for sale, but a buyer would have to adhere to the stipulations of the ordinance that made it a landmark.)
If Thomaier had it his way, he would love to move in.
“I’ve had my letter in for five years,” said Thomaier. “I would love to make this place my residence.”
If Thomaier did make station 37 his permanent home, no one in the neighborhood would be surprised. Many people confuse the station with a residence as it is.
“Back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, the city built fire stations to blend in with the neighborhood,” said Thomaier. “This fire station is a product of those times.”
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the crew stationed at 37 thinks of the station as their home, doing many things they would do normally at home with their families.
“We always try to sit down for a family dinner,” said Bernal. “We even put up Christmas lights this year. [WSB photo at left] We take pride in maintaining this place.”
Even with all the pros of living in Station 37, however, there is one con: Ghosts.
“I’m not sure who it is,” said Colman. “I think it’s an old soul. I still won’t go upstairs after dark.”
Even with the ghosts, Station 37 will be missed dearly.
“I’m going to miss the ambience,” said Bish. “It’s cozy.”
(NICHOLAS TROST is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory)