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Ringing in the past

Ben Godar

Fire Engineer Terry Mencuri hopes the Burbank Fire Department will

soon be able to honor its firefighters with a sound from the

department’s past.

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Mencuri, who oversees the department’s museum, is trying to track

down two antique fire bells used by the department during the first

half of the 20th century. One of the bells was the department’s

first, and the other was on a beloved fire engine that was used for

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nearly 50 years.

He wants to display the bells in the museum and use them for

ceremonies, such as ones to honor firefighters who have died.

Currently, when the department holds a “last call” bell-ringing

ceremony, it borrows bells from other departments.

“It would mean a lot more if we had a real bell that belonged in

Burbank,” Mencuri said.

The first of the bells he is searching for pre-dates the city of

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Burbank itself. Purchased in 1909, it sat atop a hose cart and was

used to summon the then-volunteer firefighters for the village of

Burbank. The city wasn’t incorporated until July 8, 1911.

The bell originally sat in the 100 block of what is now San

Fernando Boulevard, but was later moved to the corner of Olive Avenue

and Angeleno Avenue, Mencuri said. The last mention of the bell he

can find was in a 1920 newspaper article, but said it was probably

retired in 1924 when a permanent fire department was established.

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While Mencuri said he has “run into a lot of dead-ends” looking

for the bell, he wouldn’t be surprised if it was still somewhere in

the city.

“In those days, when a bell was taken out of service, it was used

in a church or something like that,” he said.

Mencuri has located the second bell and hopes to bring it the

museum soon. The one-foot tall bell was originally mounted on the

passenger side of a 1929 American La France fire engine, he said.

That truck remained in the fleet as a reserve unit until the

1970s, retired Battalion Chief Gary Sutliff said. Sometime in the

early 1970s, the bell was given to retiring Battalion Chief Fred

Olchvary. When Olchvary died, he passed the bell on to retired Capt.

Dick Lean.

After weeks of searching, Mencuri found Lean, who lives in

Concord. Lean agreed to donate the bell for the museum, and Mencuri

said he hopes to travel north to Concord in the coming weeks to pick

it up.

In a department that didn’t save many artifacts over the years,

Sutliff said it would mean a lot to have the bell back.

“I think this is probably one of the priceless heirlooms of the

department,” he said.


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