Rededication of Toledo Firehouse Bittersweet

June 17--Yvonne Juhasz was in her pajamas watching the Monday-morning news when a familiar site appeared on her television screen: Toledo Fire Station 3, the fire house where her father worked for years.

Ms. Juhasz, who grew up around the corner, was drawn back to the North Toledo station at Bush and Erie streets for the rededication ceremony she saw on television, which fire Chief Luis Santiago said brought him mixed emotions.

The rededication on Monday signaled the near completion of a $2.86 million renovation to the city's oldest station and also triggered solemn memories of Privates Stephen Machcinski and Jamie Dickman, who died in the line of duty on Jan. 26. The two firefighters -- Private Machcinski, 42, a veteran of the department and Private Dickman, 31, a rookie -- were assigned to Station 3.

"We're bound and determined to make this a great day," Chief Santiago said. Families of both fallen firefighters were in attendance.

Ms. Juhasz, who now lives in Perrysburg, brought with her photos of her father, William Kertesz, his helmet, and stories. Mr. Kertesz died in 1996.

The Kertesz family grew up around the corner from the fire station in a big, gray apartment building. In the mornings, when she wasn't in school, a young Yvonne would go outside and wait for the firefighters to wave her over for breakfast. She ate meals there, slept there. It was home.

If her father and the other firefighters caught a run, she had a special chair in which she would sit until her mother came to fetch her. If there was a big fire, the family went. They were there for the 1961 Anthony Wayne Trail fire that killed four firefighters and at Tiedtke's when the downtown department store was destroyed in 1975.

As a young girl, Ms. Juhasz spent so much time in the station that she dreamed of becoming a firefighter. In those days, however, and for a time beyond when she could have joined, the department didn't hire women, she said. She now works in a doctor's office.

Station 3 closed in September, 2012, when significant structural cracks were found in the apparatus bay floor and debris began falling from the basement ceiling. The crews were pulled from the station and moved across the Maumee River to Station 13, which is about a mile away on Front Street.

It was not known when the Station 3 crews would move back to Bush Street, but a date should be set by the end of the week, said fire Lt. Matthew Hertzfeld.

The renovation and expansion added more than 7,000 square feet to the station, making it about 9,634 square feet now, said Battalion Chief John Kaminski. Where the buckling apparatus bay was, there is now a kitchen.

"By renovating and expanding Station 3, we have preserved a piece of Toledo and fire-service history while continuing to provide professional emergency services to the North Toledo neighborhood," Chief Kaminski said.

The station is full of reminders of the fallen firefighters. A plaque in the kitchen and a large poster waiting to be hung in another room memorialize the firefighters. Also, at the back of the station, where it will greet the firefighters when they return from each run, is an engraved stone put in by the construction crews.

"We all felt a loss," said Mark Pitchford, the superintendent from Willson Builders Inc. He said every time Station 3 crews passed during construction, they would wave and smile at the builders. On Jan. 27, everything was different. When engines and life squads passed, there were no smiles. No one waved.

"We put it in between the back doors to let you know that Jamie and Steven are watching this place until you get back home safe," Mr. Pitchford said.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.

Copyright 2014 - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

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