By Roger H. Aylworth
The Chico Enterprise-Record
BANGOR, Calif. — Firefighters are a pragmatic group who learn to assess a situation objectively and make reasoned decisions based on training and judgment.
So discussions of the supernatural aren't usually part of their working world, except at Butte County Fire Station 55 in Bangor.
Sitting on the northern edge of what was a Gold Rush boomtown, the Bangor Fire Station is an aged, decrepit combination of structures that over the years have been remodeled into a single facility.
In the past, the county had to dispatch exterminators to the station to attack a rat population, but it wasn't rats that became a brief topic of conversation at a recent Butte County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The Bangor station is No. 1 on the county's priority list for capital improvements. At the meeting, the supervisors were asked to approve $1.6 million to tear down and replace the station.
That's when Chico Supervisor Jane Dolan commented that the old station has floors that sag and other structural problems. She said the condition of the building and the passing wind were behind the tales of the ghost of Station 55.
Chico Supervisor Maureen Kirk laughingly asked Rich Hall, county director of general services, if he could arrange an "exorcism" at the station.
"That is not included in the proposal," responded Hall with a smile.
In a later telephone interview, Hall explained, "It seems that the firemen up at the Bangor station have the idea that the residence that they are in now is occupied by the ghost.
"It was mentioned to me in a rather jovial way after some of the people came back from a meeting with the fire department about what we were going to do up there."
Janet Upton is deputy director for communications at Cal Fire headquarters in Sacramento, but before taking that job she worked in Butte County for 22 years, and the Bangor ghost was something she heard about from almost her first day in the county.
While the station is owned by the county, it is staffed under a contract with Cal Fire.
"It is just part of the Butte County Fire Department lore," said Upton.
"I think that Jane Dolan is on to something. It is an extremely old building that creaks and groans, and things go bump in the night fairly regularly," she continued.
While saying there are at least some entirely mundane explanations for the Bangor "haunting," she noted there are some perfectly "rational people" who are convinced this ghost is absolutely real.
One of those is Cal Fire-Butte County Capt. Scott McLean. For nearly 10 years, Station 55 has been his working home. For him there is no debate or discussion: The station is haunted.
"Yes, there is a ghost. Many of us have dealt with it," said the captain in a matter-of-fact tone.
There isn't a hint of humor in McLean's voice when he makes the statement, and it isn't an "I believe" comment but a simple "I know" reality as far as the veteran firefighter is concerned.
"All of the people (at the station) have experienced it one time or another. It just happens. You just work with it," continued the captain.
In years past, before McLean was assigned to 55 and when the engine stationed there was gasoline-powered, the ghost allegedly liked to pull the engine's ignition wires on a regular basis.
The current diesel-powered fire engine hasn't been the target of any spectral pranks, but objects are moved, doors opened, and noises are heard.
Even resident animals have had contact with the phantom, according to McLean.
"There used to be a station dog for a while that was freaked out. Currently there is a station cat who doesn't care," he said.
Except for an occasional fleeting shadow, nobody has actually seen the ghost and nobody knows whether it is male or female, an adult or a child.
McLean called the resident specter more mischievous than malevolent, but one of its reported behaviors is disturbing.
Firefighter Anthony Brown, who was assigned to Station 55 a year ago, was a mild believer when he arrived.
"When I first came here I told the ghost, 'I'm here to work. I've got no problems with you. I don't want you to have any with me. I'm only here for three days out of the week.' Yeah, I mean everything was good up until that morning," said Brown.
"That morning" came at 1:05 a.m. April 10 of this year.
Brown recalls he had just rolled over in bed and, "I was pinned down." Brown said it "absolutely" felt like somebody was holding him down.
Brown desperately tried to call out to his partner, who was sleeping in an adjacent bedroom, "but it was all pretty much mumbles."
"Then I felt this blast of wind for 20 or 30 seconds, and then it passed. I was able to get up. I sat up for a few minutes, gathered my thoughts and bearings, and turned on every light possible. "
Brown said he was absolutely "wide awake" during the encounter. Since that morning Brown has become a devout believer as far as the Bangor ghost is concerned.
"Definitely! He let me know he does exist."
McLean said he has had almost precisely the same experience that Brown described.
The captain said there are firefighters who will not work at Station 55 or if they do, they sleep in their cars or don't sleep at all, opting to sit up and watch television all night.
Brown has no problem sleeping at the station. He says, "I've come to accept it."
The ghost's activity tends to center in a bedroom/storage room called the "volunteers room."
The door to that room is never closed. McLean said when the door is closed, the ghost tends to become more aggressive.
While he was taking photos in the room, Enterprise-Record head photographer Bill Husa watched as the door slowly and silently closed. It was a windy day. Husa said he tested the door and found it would swing with the slightest touch.
None of the firefighters has any real information on who the ghost might be. McLean said there is a rumor that the entity could have been a local mayor, sheriff or the madame who allegedly killed one of them, but that is nothing more than speculation.
Even with the times when somebody gets pinned to the bed, McLean said, "I enjoy it," and he doesn't want the ghost dispossessed.
He said when the station is torn down and the replacement erected, "I'm sure somehow I will figure out how to bring the ghost along (to the new facility) so everybody is happy."
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