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A lot of things have changed since the first time Joe Epler saw Seattle’s Fire Station 6.

He was about 8 years old and rode the cable car from his Leschi home to the Central District station. Back then — Epler is 102 — the fire engines were pulled by horse.

When he joined the Seattle Fire Department in the 1930s, the horses had been replaced by trucks, but the equipment was still “rugged” and the hours were brutal, he said.

“They didn’t have eight-hour shifts in those days,” Epler said. “We worked 14-hour shifts for three weeks.”

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On Saturday, Epler had ample reason for reminiscing during the open house for the Fire Department’s new Fire Station 6 at 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.

Epler, the city’s oldest former firefighter, joined about 1,200 people who came to view the new $5.9 million station.

Construction on the 11,200-square-foot building began in 2011 and was finished this year, according to department spokesman Kyle Moore. It replaces the 82-year-old landmark station, where Epler once worked, at 23rd Avenue South and Yesler Way.

The station is one of 32 being upgraded, renovated or rebuilt through a levy approved by voters in 2003.

The configuration, terrain and historic character of the former station’s site ruled out an expansion, Moore said.

“Everybody loved the old one,” firefighter Craig Patterson said. “It was one of the most loved fire stations in the city. But when we backed our rig in, you had two inches of space on the side of the mirrors and six inches in back. We couldn’t put a modern rig in there.”

The new facility meets seismic code and is designed to withstand an earthquake. It also has a generator that will allow operations to continue for 72 hours in case of a power outage.

It has a bay for ladder trucks and engines and a decontamination room.

Moore said Fire Station 6 is one of the busiest in the city, tallying 3,289 emergency responses in 2012.

Epler, who toured the station’s beanery (kitchen), day room, exercise room and private bunks, said the new space “looks like it could last forever.”

“It’s good for the department to do this,” Epler said of the open house. “Fire departments are a necessity, but they are very expensive and the public has to support them. They have to be popular.”

Epler was with the department in 1943 when a B-29 bomber bound for Boeing Field crashed into the Frye meatpacking plant on Airport Way South. Thirty people, including one firefighter, 20 Frye employees and the plane’s pilot and engineers, were killed.

Epler quit firefighting to work in the grocery business, the banking industry and for an engineering company that delivered airplanes for Boeing, but he remains part of the Fire Department family.

On his birthday, the department sends a fire engine to the Ida Culver House Broadview, where he lives with his wife, Marion Epler, who is also 102. The residents get a kick out of having cake with the firefighters while the engine is running downstairs, Epler said.

“We never lose the camaraderie, and we don’t forget our old firefighters,” said Fire Chief Gregory Dean.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

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