When Ramona had volunteer firefighters
When the late Oscar Pike was writing his life’s story, our sons wanted him to write about his time with Ramona’s fire volunteers. Oscar was 15 at the time the Kenilworth Inn burned.
I have edited some of his story. I feel it is good information as no one evacuated the town and a good amount of inventory was saved. Better than insurance.
Winnie Pike, Oscar Pike’s wife
By Oscar Pike
Ramona has had a plethora of local histories. They have been well-researched and written by good writers.
As Ramona and the county have been stretched to provide for a professional fire department, maybe an article about the Ramona Volunteer Fire Department would be interesting. This has not been researched; it is simply the memories of an 8- to 15-year-old boy who was around the volunteers at the time.
Every year, after the first good rain, the Volunteer Fire Department burned vacant blocks and fields every Tuesday. Property owners provided a case of cold beer to the volunteers and cold drinks for the boys, who always turned up at a fire.
The smoke and the flames of controlled burns drew me, along with my fellow students from Ramona Elementary School. The adults did not chase us away, but assigned us duties and made us feel useful.
Ramona had only one fire truck. It was housed in the alley at Seventh Street, one half-block south of Main Street. L.P. Coddington had a barbershop at Main and Seventh. A large circle made of railroad iron was hung outside the firehouse and when a fire was reported to Coddington, he rang the iron bell with a hammer. It could be heard clear to 10th Street.
The first volunteer to reach the firehouse got the address or directions from Coddington and started the truck and drove slowly down Main Street. Volunteers would run out and jump into or on the truck. Later we had to change the system as on one Saturday in 1940 one of our volunteers had spent awhile in the Turkey Inn consuming some beer and, when the alarm sounded, he ran out to the street and jumped onto the moving truck— he missed and in the fall broke his leg. At the next meeting, it was decided that the driver would not stop the truck for any fire volunteers who were out on the street.
We also had to solicit donations for the medical expenses. At one time I was selected to solicit funds to fill the gas tank of the fire truck. Then the price of gasoline was 12 cents a gallon and I was making 15 cents an hour cutting grass, so I felt it was easy to collect monies to fill both gas tanks on the truck.
Our biggest test came in 1942 when the Kenilworth Inn, the town’s large visitor draw for Sunday dinners, caught fire. The inn stretched parallel to Main Street for a half block from Eighth Street east with a two-story addition toward B Street, and housed a medical office on the first floor. Rooms were rented in the second story.
The kitchen caught fire one early Monday evening. The town had very low water pressure and little could be done. We learned a lesson from the Marines when at 3 a.m. a big fire truck arrived from Camp Pendleton. By the time they got there and started work, the only part of the building that was standing was the portion facing Eighth Street. The Marines hooked up and used the powerful force of their high pressure hoses to blow away what was left of the burning part of the main building.
Longtime Ramona resident Oscar Pike died Aug. 9, 2011.
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