No book burning here, please

Good neighbors: Firefighters and librarians share a community building in Douglas

Posted: Monday, March 06, 2006

If you don't mind being extra quiet, sharing stories and being on call for an emergency, then perhaps you would share one volunteer firefighter's belief that living above the Douglas Library is a great deal.

Firefighters and librarians have joined forces in Douglas, where fire trucks, books and inquisitive mind's gather under one roof simply called a community building. Inside the Douglas Public Library and Fire Hall are periodicals, Internet stations and classic novels by Hemingway, Dickens and Melville; they share space with a fire engine and rescue truck.

Living rent-free upstairs is Capital City and Fire Rescue volunteer firefighter Lt. Robert Kindred. One of Kindred's bedrooms is above the engine room and another above the library, where he sometimes can hear the faint murmur of children talking in the morning.

"Living above the library has its perks, it is always quiet and I can just throw on my sandals on and head downstairs to check out a book," Kindred said. "It is sort of an exchange because I stay here free of rent and in return I can keep an eye out for the place and do my firefighting duties."

The current building was constructed in 1986 to replace the old and decaying Douglas Municipal Building, said Juneau's library director, Barbara Berg. Berg was the first Juneau librarian to take the helm in 1972 when the Douglas Library joined the public system. The library was formerly managed by the Douglas Island Women's Club.

"In those early years I could actually smell the diesel at the municipal building that housed the library upstairs," Berg said. "We had to walk up past the old jail downstairs."

Berg said the municipal building became so "unusable" it was finally time to get rid of it. In 1986 construction of the community building began.

"When it was decided a new building would be built it was clear we wanted to keep the relationship with the fire department, both because of financial reasons and because we have a good relationship," Berg said.

Firefighters offer a fire safety program for children at the library, librarian Sandra Strandtmann said. There is a demonstration and information session.

"The firemen told the children they (firefighters) might have to go if the alarm sounded, but for the longest time that didn't happen when we had a group of kids here." Strandtmann said. "Then one day while the children were in the library they heard the alarm sound."

"They were so excited to see the fire truck take off."

The Douglas firefighters receive one to two calls a day, Kindred said.

"When I am on duty here and the tone (alarm) goes off it is my duty to get out as quickly as possible," Kindred said. "It can be a fairly quiet week and then all of the sudden wham!"

"We can have a quick series of calls and the peace and calm is shattered."

As a Douglas Headstart class exited the library, Juneau Douglas High School freshman Rafael Soto searched the Internet for video game information. Soto's dad was remodeling a house and making "tons of noise" with his hammer, leading Soto to the library for some quiet time, he said.

"I have never heard their sirens go off," Soto said. "It's not too exciting at the firehouse because nothing really happens in Douglas."

As a volunteer firefighter Kindred doesn't receive a salary or hourly pay, but he is reimbursed in other ways.

"I know this one child who always runs over to look at the fire truck when he comes to the library with his mom," Kindred said. "She lifts him high the air so he can look through the garage window."

The views from Kindred's front room sweep across Gastineau Channel, where he has witnessed many slides. It appears to be the quintessential bachelor pad, aside from stacks of fire manuals.

"I can hear the kids when they come upstairs, I am glad there is a lock on the door or I may have kids walking into the station," Kindred said. "They just want to chat and hang out to get away from the library for a while I suppose."

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