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Station No. 6: Protecting Lakeside for over a century

RELATED CONTENT: A slideshow of the historic firestations in Duluth
BY PAUL BUDD DCN Correspondent

It is the middle of the night and a house on the corner of 60th Avenue East and Wyoming Street is being consumed by a raging fire. As the flames begin to overwhelm the house and smoke bellows from the windows, a fire truck pulls up and two men step out of the truck prepared for the worst.

Within an hour, the flames have been suppressed and the situation is well under control.

Thanks to the two firefighters the fire is out and no one is seriously hurt. They are from Station No. 6 in Duluth’s Lakeside district.

Station No. 6 was first constructed in April of 1891 as a two-story, wooden-frame fire station that housed not fire trucks, but horses.

Today, nearly a century later, that station stands on the very same street corner of 51st Avenue East and Superior Street in Duluth’s Lakeside district, but with an updated look.

Capt. Jarry Keppers knows the history that goes along with Station No. 6. He was the captain there in Lakeside for 12 years from 1988-2000.

“Yeah, this is a pretty historic station,? said Keppers. “I’ve seen a lot of changes and a lot of people come and go from here over the years.?

But the history behind Station 6 goes way back before Kepper’s time as captain.

It was built in 1891 to provide fire protection for the growing and expanding Lakeside community. The station had a hayloft for its two horses. The horses’ job was to pull the 40-gallon engine to the fire.

According to “Fire and Ice,? a book co-written by Keppers about the history of the Duluth fire department, one of the favorite activities of the Lakeside residents at the time was to see the two fire horses as they were paraded up and down London Road. This was done to keep the horses well exercised and groomed.

King and Frank, as the horses were known throughout the community, were relied upon to pull the engine to the scene of the fire.

When motorized fire trucks finally did arrive in Duluth, it was Station 6 that was the first to have them. The original station on 51st Avenue and Superior Street had to be torn down and rebuilt because its condition was so terrible.

The chief at the time, Chief Joseph Randall, described the old building as a “cesspool? and that a “worse condition could not be imagined and still be inhabitable.?

The new station was opened on Aug. 1, 1911 as the first station built specifically to house motorized engines.

Today, the station still has its classic look but has benefited from a recent upgrade.

Station No 6.jpg
The Fire Station No. 6 in the Lakeside community
(Photo By Paul Budd/DCN)

In 2001, the station was expanded and renovated to allow for more living quarters for the firefighters on duty and created a new 38-by-48 foot truck bay which allows for easier access to Superior Street than previously.

Overall, the station was nearly doubled in size, however the original look and structure from the 1911 building was kept intact.

The station has always been important to the identity of the Lakeside area.

“This area is what Lakeside is known for,? said Rachel Johnson, a Lakeside resident. “That fire house is something people recognize and know and it would’ve been wrong for them to tear it down.?

The people who work inside the station have changed, along with how they do their job.

Keppers talked about some of those changes in terms of fighting fires today as opposed to 40 or 50 years ago.

“Attitude, qualifications, technology; all that stuff has really changed with firefighters over the years,? said Keppers. “We have these thermal imaging cameras today that are amazing. They make it so much easier to find people in fires.?

Current fire captain of Station 6, Capt. Steve Sauve, talked about the different approach firefighters have today. He said that safety regulations have changed the way they do their job.

"In the older days, you would see guys going into buildings without wearing their breathing support and eventually dying from lung problems,? he said. “It was really just a macho attitude they had back then.?