Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – A week from Monday, the last Plaza conversation will have been halted by Arcata’s noon siren.
Since 1946, Arcata Fire’s startling midday blast – first a steam whistle, then the current air raid siren – has been heard from Bayside to Valley West, though its city-wide siren song hasn’t actually notified firefighters of anything other than the time of day since 1996, with the advent of pagers and later, cell phones.
Following its final sounding on Oct. 27, the siren will be removed from its tower atop the Arcata Fire Protection District’s downtown Arcata station and auctioned off.
Its departure heralds a couple of historic turning points.
One is a return to the old days, when the department’s 1,000 pound W.T. Garrett & Co. bell sounded daily at noon. That bell will be cleansed of its garish gold paint and put back into symbolic service with a remote-controlled clapper.
Update: Former Fire Chief Dave White said that the siren broke a couple of times during his tenure as chief. Each time it went out of service, he was "inundated" with 20 to 30 calls from citizens pleading that it be placed back in service.
The siren’s silenced song also signifies a bold thrust into the future for Arcata Fire, part of a dramatic modernization and reorganization campaign.
Since the 1880s, the Arcata Hook and Ladder Company and its descendants have been based in the area of Ninth and F streets in downtown Arcata.
In a history-making move, the department is shifting its headquarters to its McKinleyville station. After a renovation to help the Arcata station properly house today’s outsized firefighting apparatus, it will be restored to service with a duty crew.
As of Monday, Arcata Fire is operating out of the former Busch Geotechnical building at 905 Sixth St. It will remain there for six to eight months as Pacific Builders remodels the main station on Ninth Street.
Doing so will require ripping out walls to ascertain details of the building’s construction and better plan the remodeling project.
The $3.5 million project, planned with assistance from Greenway Partners, includes creation of a new headquarters in McKinleyville.
“The overarching goal is to give us the ability to better serve this very large community,” said Fire Chief Desmond Cowan.
Last weekend, Arcata Fire personnel were busy heaping decades of the department’s accumulated bric-brac, furniture, equipment and other artiffacts on tables in the station’s meeting room.
Sale items include plush toys, chairs, Mardi Gras beads, fire extinguishers and the very letters which once spelled out “Arcata Vol. Fire Dept.” over the building’s fire engine bays, plus innumerable other exotic curios.
Cowan described the change as “bittersweet.” “It’s the end of an era in one respect, but starting a new paradigm on the other,” he said.
The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 18 and 19. More information is available at royalscotsmanauction.com.