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The True Meaning of Memorial Day Revisited

AFD’s bell represents all the lives lost while in service.

This is part of our ongoing series of Dave LeMoine’s memories of growing up in Alameda and being an Alameda firefighter. New installments are published every Friday.

Memorial in Bronze from 1948

By Thomas M. Lane, Alameda Fire Department Chief 1933-1958
Alameda Post - Alameda Firemen's year book cover
Alameda Firemen’s Year Book Cover shows the bell that once summoned volunteer firefighters. “Dedicated October 9, 1948. To the memory of all our ‘Volunteer Firemen’ who, by their unselfish devotion to civic duty, helped preserve our City from fire.”

On the cover of this issue of the Alameda Firemen’s Year Book is a bell which is symbolic of the main idea behind this Year Book: The fight against the demon of fire. The gold coins which appear with the bell represent not only California’s ’49er tradition but also the tremendous wealth which is preserved by intelligent fire prevention and prompt extinguishment of fires.

This bronze bell was cast in the W.T. Garrett Foundry of San Francisco in 1875 and was purchased at a cost of $465.00 by the Town Trustees of Alameda on December 5, 1876.

The weight of this bell is 850 pounds. Its purpose was to sound the alarm of fire and thereby notify the Volunteer Firemen of an emergency. The bell was installed on top of a 50-foot wooden tower that had been erected for this purpose at 2424 Webb Avenue in the rear of the Town Hall which also served as a meeting place for the Town Trustees and provided quarters for the Fire and Police Departments.

When the present City Hall was erected in 1905, a more modern meeting place was made available for the Trustees. Offices were provided for the town officials and quarters for the Police Department but the Fire Department remained in the old building and was known as the Thompson Hose Company. This name was later changed to Station #1, which it is known as today.

Alameda Post - Old Alameda Fire Station One
Fire Station One on Webb Avenue – Chief Thomas Lane, A.C. Joe Lane, Aapt. Fred Jager, Henery Holle, Jack LeMoine, Archie Waterbury, Waren Aspinall, Henery Hoffman, George Davies. Lt. Vic Dalmas. Chief’s car 1940 DeSoto. Asst. Chief’s buggy 1942 Olds, E-1 1934 Seagrave, T-1 1925 Seagrave.
Alameda Post - old photo of City Hall with bell tower
Alameda’s City Hall with bell tower. The tower was removed in 1941 because the ringing of the bell loosened the mortar between the bricks.

In 1909, the old Town Hall was razed, and a new brick building was erected for the Fire Department at this same location. The 50-foot wooden tower was allowed to remain, and the bell continued to summon Volunteer and Part-Pay Firemen to duty until the year of 1920 at which time the bell was removed and the tower razed because of its weakened structural condition occasioned by its being ignited during exposure in the Park Street conflagration of January 8, 1920.

In 1920, the bell was erected on the brick tower of the City Hall with complete sounding mechanism to strike the hours, day and night, for the clock which had been donated by Mr. Herman Krusi and wife to the City of Alameda. This bell faithfully tolled the hours away until the year 1941 when, along with the clock and brick tower, it was removed for safety reasons as the continuous striking of the bell mechanism had occasioned vibrations that loosened the cement bonding of the bricks of the tower construction.

Alameda Post - Fire Prevention Week Ceremonies cover from October 9, 1948
Fire Prevention Week Ceremonies brochure cover from Oct. 9, 1948.

If this bell could speak, it could tell of many unique and varied experiences in which it played important parts in the growth of our city and in bringing happiness to the citizens of our city.

During many years, it served in calling the Volunteer Firemen to duty and — upon the passing of the Volunteers, pealing out its friendly message of the time of day and night.

Although it is composed of metal and its tongue silenced forever, nevertheless, we of the Fire Department of today value the traditions which this bell represents – faithful service to the citizens of Alameda throughout the years.

Chief Lane’s remarks originally were originally presented at the Fire Prevention Week Memorial Ceremony on October 9, 1948.

The History of Our Bell Continued

Alameda Post - retired firefighter Dave LeMoine with the bell outside Fire Station 1
The author with the bell at Station One.

Sometime about the end of 1947, the bell was placed and rededicated to our fallen firefighters, police and soldiers at the flagpole of the newly-completed drill tower on Bay Farm Island. In the early years, the mayor and City dignitaries would have a memorial ceremony annually. The bell sat there quietly guarding our community, forgotten year after year, while the mud flats were filled and the golf course grew from 18 to 36 holes. The destroyers sunk in the mud were covered by Aughinbaugh Way and Harbor Bay appeared. While traffic grew from four or five cars an hour to a steady stream, it watched hundreds of training evolutions with men, new and seasoned, coming and going. Then in 1968 the bell was again moved to the entrance of the new Station #1 at the corner of Encinal Avenue and Park Street, where it sits to this day.

We have long lost the true meaning of our bell and of what Memorial Day stands for, but it will never quit standing watch. The bell represents the 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers, and the total number of 2,977 souls who lost their lives on 9/11/2001. The bell also represents the countless World War I and II soldiers, nurses, Korean, Vietnam and Iraq War men and woman whose families have been cheated out of knowing their ancestors – including my dad and brother, who died in the line of duty as firefighters.

Alameda Post - Fire Station One at Encinal Avenue and Park Street
Currently, Alameda Fire Station One is located on Encinal Avenue at the corner of Park St. The bell is right by the entrance. Photo Adam Gillitt.

So, if you find yourself on this Memorial Day near Alameda, and you can take a little time out of your barbecue and picnic schedule, please take a stroll to Fire Station One on the corner of Encinal Avenue and Park Street, look at this bell, stop… and reflect on the freedoms that are ours because of our ancestors who saved the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” and remember the REAL reason for the season.

David LeMoine is retired from the Alameda Fire Department and now lives in Eagle, ID.

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July, 2022 – Alameda’s Innovative Streetcars​

Saturday July 9 — Alameda’s Horsecar Lines

Join Dennis Evanosky for an imaginary ride on two of Theodore Meetz's three horsecar lines and a visit to Fassking’s Hotel. Meet at Union Street and Santa Clara Avenue. at 10 a.m.
Tickets available
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