he History of Bay Farm Island’s Fire Drill Tower

he History of Bay Farm Island’s Fire Drill Tower


In a recent letter, (“Fire Tower Raises Concern,” Feb. 14) a resident reported not knowing the story behind the Alameda Fire Department’s drill tower on Bay Farm Island. Below appears an excerpt from Stellar Media Group’s soon-to-be released Bay Farm Island, A hidden history of Alameda that tells the story of this facility.

Fire Engineering magazine ran an article in its December 1947 edition titled “Alameda Dedicates New Drill Tower.” The piece describes, in great detail, the tower that still stands, though closed, at the intersection of Island and Clubhouse drives. 

According to the article, “The City of Alameda officially dedicated its new 50-foot-high fire department drill tower Saturday, Oct. 11, 1947, with appropriate ceremonies, in which city officials joined with the public in acclaiming the improvement and admiring the exhibition staged by the fire department, under Chief Thomas M. Lane.”

After the Firemen Guard of Honor raised the flag, Mayor W. J. Branscheid gave the welcoming address at the ceremony which gave the City Council a chance to fully inspect the new “training ground” and see a demonstration of its “voice alarm system.” Fire department crews then peformed a dozen or so “drill tower evolutions.” Chief Lane spoke, and the crowd also heard from Chief Jav Stevens, Assistant Manager, National Board of Fire Underwriters and Secretary of the Pacific Coast Association of Fire Chiefs.

The article describes how the city’s population had nearly tripled to 90,000 people by 1947. The fire department needed a proper training facility. Under Chief Lane’s direction, the department received the steel and wood four-story tower on which to practice its skills. 

“The foundation is securely anchored by 30-foot pilings and concrete,” reads the article. “The lower floor, measuring 20 by 35 feet, housed the pumper used for training purposes.” For full effiency, this floor offered space to perform smoke mask training and take hot showers. A handball court “for warm up exercise,” folded out of the east wall. The facility was fully lit and wired into the city’s fire alarm system.

Fire Engineering describes the second story as furnished and the top two unfurnished. To facilitate drying hoses, each floor had a 3-foot, 6-inch square hole in one corner.

“Stairways of standard tread lead to the upper three floors,” wrote the magazine. “Protective covers are provided to guard window frames from damage by pompier ladders and the east side of the building has a standard fire escape and dry standpipe.”

A steel arm that allowed crews to practice lowering “victims” was affixed to the roof and a 20-foot wide rope safety net stretched the width of the building at a height of 6 feet. For hose and pumping drills, a fire hydrant and drafting cistern were available on the grounds. 

The article attests to Alameda’s facility being on the cutting edge. “These and many other refinements tend to make the new structure one of the most modern of its kind in the country.”

Alameda Fire Department used the tower’s grounds to store its double-wide trailer from 1975 to 1991. The tower, in effect served as Fire Station No. 4 until the more formal 
facility opened at Mecartney Road and Aughinbaugh Way. The tower continued to serve as the department’s formal training facility until 2003. 

Since then, Alameda Fire Department has coordinated training activities through its Training Division Office at 950 W. Ranger Road on Alameda Point.