Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Redwood City firefighters Jason White, Jason Fox, Joe Echema, Mark Calonico and Steve Martin sit around Station 20’s bowling alley table.
Redwood City firefighters are taking a piece of city history and turning it into station house legacies.
Local firefighters have begun to repurpose bowling alley lanes to create unique dinning tables that local firefighters will gather around for generations.
When Mel’s Bowl shut down, a few of the guys saw an opportunity to take on a joint venture and create unique tables at each fire station, said fire Capt. Jason Fox.
Of the five large pieces of old bowling lanes they retrieved, each piece of pine and maple was delicately hand laid and nailed more than 60 years ago, Fox said. With new developments rising throughout the county and many of the places he grew up with gone, the lanes are some of the last genuinely handmade pieces of the city’s history, Fox said.
“To leave a part of Redwood City history, we used history,” Fox said.
Remarkably, during the construction of the first table, a firefighter found a station banner from the late 1800s under his bed, said fire Capt. Steve Martin. The banner dated back before the department was unionized, when it was made up of volunteer firefighters, Fox said. Firefighter tradition is steeped in history, so when it came time to choose a decal, they chose the Maltese Cross from the flag, Fox said. By using images from the flag that’s in disrepair and will soon turn to dust, they’re able to preserve the department’s history while forming a new tradition, Martin said.
It took about two months for Fox and several others to build the department’s first bowling alley dining table. Sanding, smoothing, gluing and laying the finicky resin sealant to create the table was a learning process they undertook during their off time, Fox said.
Once the first one was built and homed at the large downtown Station Nine, the remaining stations’ dining tables started to look pretty shabby. So Martin decided to build the second table with his father, a retired San Mateo firefighter. It served as a symbolic father-son bonding opportunity and the chance to partake in the new tradition, Martin said.
“A dining table in a fire house lasts a long time, I’ve only got about six years left [before retirement] and I wanted to leave something behind, to carry on a tradition,” Martin said.
After deconstructing Station 20’s dilapidated circular dining table, along with pieces of exotic zebra and black walnut wood, he created the 7-foot-by-4-foot table with gold leaf inlay. He used the legs of the old table and sections of the top for bracing the underneath of the bowling alley table, Martin said.
Repurposing materials and keeping as many historic relics as possible is inherent to their culture, Fox said.
“We don’t throw anything away in fire service,” Fox said.
Future generations of firefighters will sit around these carefully crafted tables three times a day, all year long, Martin said. Leaving a meaningful contribution to the department and his successors is assuring to his “leave the place better than when you found it” motto, Martin said.
Gathering together and breaking bread is an important part of their day, it allows them to set aside rank and bond on a more personal level, Fox said. However, everyone has their own seat and, when entering into another station, respect entails asking where to sit, Fox said. Although the monstrous 16-foot-by-4-foot table at Station Nine could easily sit 30 people, they built a second smaller union table allowing them to comfortably host large dinners and retirement parties, Fox said.
About 20 firefighters retired in the last few years; gathering together to share stories, tease one another and catch up is an important pastime for them, Fox said.
Although both tables are still in their youth and the smooth coating that took careful preparation has remained pristine, Martin thinks fondly of the use they’ll undergo once he’s gone.
“If it gets scratched and dinged up and dented, well that’s what it’s all about,” Martin said.
Martin has agreed to help with subsequent tables and the third is already underway for Station 11. They take great pride in leaving a contribution to future firefighters and hope the tables will serve as a reminder of their service. Martin engraved the bottom of Station 20’s table and grins as he thinks of someone uncovering it in the future.
“I hope a lot of stories get told around these tables,” Martin said.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106