Fire Station No. 3 is located at 1026 Grinnell between Virginia Street and Truman Avenue. It was built in 1907. When it opened, Key West had 12 paid firemen and 200 volunteers. Some believe it to be the oldest working fire station until it closed in 1998. The station housed Sunnysouth Engine Company and Tiger Hose Company No. 3.
The hurricane of 1909 hit the Island with winds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The station’s roof was heavily damaged but the building remained standing. During the hurricane, Chief Hyam Fulford ordered the steam engine to be taken outside to the backyard. Shortly after that, the roof was destroyed.
The building is build with concrete blocks. These blocks are know as “Indian Blocks” and are solid concrete. These blocks were very popular in the last 1800’s and were thought to make the building fireproof.
The fire station received its first motorized fire engine in 1914. Prior to then, fires were fought with horse drawn steamers and carriages.
During the 1930’s the firemen were paid in vouchers, or script, as Key West was bankrupt. The problem with script was the merchants would only redeem at half its face value. Firemen used script to buy food, clothing and other necessities. In 1931, during the Great Depression, all of the firemen in Key West went on strike; except those of Station No. 3. The Sheriff’s office provided them protection from the other striking firemen. No. 3 remained open during the strike and throughout the Depression.
By the 1940’s the building had undergone a lot of changes. Internal stairs were added and a cement hose trough and wooden hose racks were built behind the station. The horse drawn steam engines were also removed. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the horse stalls were removed to make room for a new kitchen and bathroom. The sash windows were replaced with jabousie windows and the original red brick engine room floor was covered with a concrete slab.
The museum in 2010 and is open to the public.
The success of the museum is credited to local historian Alex Vega. He is a retired second generation Key West firefighter. He is the founder of the Old Firehouse Preservation, Inc. a nonprofit organization devoted to restoring and preserving the firehouse as a museum.
The museum contains many artifacts, some dating back to the early 1900’s. Most notable is the indoor coal pit. It is believed to be the last of its kind in the United States. It was use during the time of horse drawn fire engines and steam powered water pumps. There is also an alarm system which visitors can see. It sent signals through a system that employed a ticker-tape machine.
Museum visitors can walk through the old living and sleeping quarters to see what life was like for the fire fighters. Old uniforms and badges are also on display. The Chief Wall has pictures, badges and uniforms dating back to the 1800’s.
If you want to see an old fire engine, and face it when you go to a fire house museum that is what you really want to see, there is a shiny 1929 American La France engine on display.
The museum is open daily.
(credit: KeyWestHistoricMarkerTour.org, KeyWestFirehouseMuseum.com, Fla-keys.com)