For the last two years, a group of firefighters who call themselves “The Water Street Irregulars” have been busy restoring old firefighting equipment and preserving the history of firefighting in San Antonio. The former fire station has been serving as a workshop for the San Antonio Fire Museum which is scheduled to open in the near future at the old Fire Station No. 1 at 801 East Houston Street near the Alamo.
When I stopped by old fire station No. 7 at 604 South Alamo & Water Street on a recent Wednesday morning, I found a beehive of activity. Retired fireman, Frank Walsh toured me through the drafty old building where I saw at least a half-dozen volunteers scraping, painting and polishing various pieces of antique firefighting equipment. Two of the volunteers were wrestling a repaired rear axle back into the housing of a 1927 American La France fire engine. Next to it was a 1951 Mack fire engine, newly restored and ready to roll. Frank thinks it’s very likely that one of those beauties will be in our Fair parade in April.
Fire Station No. 7 has a rich history of firefighting in San Antonio. It started out as a volunteer company in 1885 as Mission Hose Company No. 4. When the city changed its ward designations, it became the 7th Ward Hose Company in 1898.
During the years of the volunteer fire department, citizens took great pride in their volunteer firemen. When there was a parade, the men dressed in their uniforms and proudly showed off their fire equipment as they marched through the city. On Sunday mornings, church goers would walk over to the park after service to watch the volunteers practice climbing ropes and performing calisthenics to keep themselves in top physical shape.
When the city established a paid fire department in 1891, firefighting may have become more efficient but a unique social and fraternal phenomenon which crossed class boundaries suddenly came to an end. The color and glamour which the volunteer fighter provided to the city’s image was gone forever.
The old building on South Alamo that we see today was built in 1925 in the Mission/Spanish Colonial revival style of architecture. The three-bay station was built on the site of an earlier firehouse built in 1901.
While King William and Lavaca neighbors are proud of our new Fire Station No. 7 on South St. Mary’s and Florida Streets, we will miss the old fire station on South Alamo. We’re told that it will continue to be the Fire Museum workshop until the city decides its next life. We honor all the firefighters who have bravely served at fire station No. 7 through the years.
- Bill Cogburn
Source: Shirley Lerner’s Growth & Change – The San Antonio Fire Department 1884 – 1900, and photos from San Antonio Fire Museum furnished by retired fire fighter, Frank Walsh.