Johnson & Son
Minidoka's Fire Stations
Minidoka Relocation Center's two fire stations were built in 1942. Each fire station included three bays for the fire trucks, a dormitory space that included an office, a bathroom with a shower stall and two toilets. There was a bunk room, an equipment room with built in lockers, and two other rooms (one which was likely the fire chief's bedroom).
Two retired firemen from the LA Fire Department were brought in to start up and run Minidoka's fire department but the stations were staffed entirely by internees.Fire crews worked shifts of 24 hours on and 48 off so that there was a continual turnaround of personnel. Training the crews was among the first priorities as no one had any firefighting experience due to the many restrictive regulations that prevented Japanese Americans from entering the field prior to the war. The internee firemen spent much of their time in checking equipment and training in firefighting techniques as practice fire drills gave the necessary experience to handle any emergency.
Thankfully there were very few fires during the camp's occupation, though the danger was very real with over 600 wooden buildings covered in tar paper situated relatively close together. The greatest danger came from residents causing an overload on the electric power lines by using too many multiple clusters with extra lights and cooking elements. Fuses were frequently blown and fire hazards were very real.
Minidoka's worst fire broke out in the boiler room in Block 23's laundry near the high school. This was where the water was heated for use in the high school block. The cause of the fire is unknown but was thought to have been due to an overheated boiler. The fire departments' prompt response quickly brought the fire under control, but not until it had completely destroyed the boiler room and all its equipment. The repair work took several days and cost over $2,000.
When they were not training the fire crews played a variety of games to help pass the time. Favorite games included: checkers, chess, Shogi (a Japanese variant of chess), a board game called 'Go', Mah jong, and card games like solitaire, whist and rummy, and dice rolling. There was also a victory garden at the fire station that provided the men with fresh vegetables.
The fire crews were used to help in a variety of medical emergencies such as the retrieval of a drowning victim from the Northside Canal. The crews were also called out to help fight range fires. This gave the men an opportunity to do something different, help local agencies, see a little of the area, and make some extra spending cash.
After the center closed Fire Station #1 was used for a short time as a home by the Herrmann family before their farm house was built, and it was then used as a garage and storage building.
As the only remaining fire station, the building will be used to help interpret the story of Minidoka.
Did You Know?
All war rationing applied to U.S. civilians were also practiced in relocation centers. They were allotted sugar, coffee, and ration points using regulations governing all civilian institutions. Food costs at the centers did not exceed 45c per person per day and sometimes went as low as 31c.