Housed in the original 1909 Firehouse Number 1 on the edge of downtown, the excellent Denver Firefighters Museum tells the story of more than 150 years of firefighting in the Mile High City, from before the Denver Fire Department was formed in 1866, to the present. Here visitors will find two floors of historical artifacts, fascinating exhibits, and fun family and kids activities throughout the museum.
Displays on the first floor follow the process of firefighting, starting with Communications. Displays include antique fire alarm boxes to modern dispatch desks. Next are Personal Protective Tools and Equipment; with displays of bunking gear, helmets, boots, and firefighting tools.
The Fire Apparatus display includes hand-pulled, horse-pulled, and motorized fire trucks and engines. Among them are hand-pulled hose reels, an early-day steam-powered fire engine, a 1924 American LaFrance fire engine, and a beautiful 1942 American LaFrance fire squad truck.
In the early days of firefighting in Denver, water came from wells, hand pumps, ditches, cisterns, rivers, and creeks. Without a system of water mains and fire hydrants, the best a fire company could do was to pull down a burning building to prevent the fire from spreading to adjoining structures. The motto of Hook and Ladder Company #1 expressed the conditions of the day, “We Raze to Save.”
One interesting artifact on display is an Empire Life Saving Net used to catch jumpers trapped on the ledges of tall buildings.
Fire Safety Stops on the first floor explore the exhibits on a child’s level and teach important fire prevention lessons in a fun, non-threatening manner. Activities include a 911 teaching phone, child-size firefighting gear and fire truck, and a touch cart full of real firefighting tools.
Have you ever wondered why Dalmatians are associated with fire departments? We learned why at the museum! Back in the days when horses were used to pull fire equipment, herding dogs like Border Collies and Terriers were used to bark at the horses and nip at their heels to make the horses run faster to the fire scene. Once at the fire, the dogs herded the horses away from the flames and kept them under control until the fire was extinguished. Dalmatians, being very social animals, were originally used to keep the horses company. Later they became mascots and lived in some of the firehouses with the firefighters.
And what’s a fire station without a fire pole? Fire poles are so much a part of firefighting lore that their true origins have become lost to legend. One story is that Chicago Engine Company 21 rounded off a 4×4 pole, sanded it smooth, and erected it from the hayloft window. It was such a success that the company began setting response records and they installed a second pole. Other fire companies followed suit, and over time brass and steel fire poles replaced the original wooden ones. Poles were greased with motor oil and kerosene to assist in descent. While sliding down a fire pole hastened response time, the practice also led to increased injuries. Today most fire stations are built on one floor, and fire poles have gone out of style. The museum has two fire poles, including one set up especially for kids to try out.
The second floor of the museum includes firefighters’ living and sleeping quarters. Firefighters lived at the station, and the upper floor was home. There was a dormitory, kitchen, and shared bathroom. Beds were located close to the poles over the apparatus to which the firefighters were assigned. Bunking gear – boots, pants, and suspenders – were placed beside the bed to speed response time to emergency alarms. The House Captain collected a weekly contribution from each firefighter that was used to pay for community expenses such as laundry, coffee, kitchen supplies, and exercise equipment.
Senior officers had separate small private rooms, which were a bedroom and office combination. Here officers could do their paperwork and discuss personnel matters. They also had an emergency telephone for fire calls. Junior officers slept with the firefighters in the main dormitory. Because Station One also was a district firehouse, it contained additional quarters for the Assistant Chief of the district. Officers had a separate bathroom but shared shaving sinks and shower stalls with the firefighters.
In the early days, the fire department did not supply food or cooking gear, so firefighters developed a system in which every man paid a daily contribution to purchase groceries. In the 1960s, this cost each firefighter $1 a day. Cooking duties might rotate through the crew, or the best cook might be elected chef.
Firefighters worked seven days on and had the eighth day off. To allow them to have time with their families, Station One had a Family Room, which was basically a small kitchen with a table and chairs where the firefighter and his family could eat together. Once schedules changed to allow more time off, the Family Room became a second kitchen. Why two kitchens? Because there was always a good-natured rivalry between the truck and engine crews and it allowed each a separate community room.
These days the second floor of Station One has displays on firefighter training, life in the firehouse, major fires that took place in Denver over the years, interactive displays for kids, and a section of I-beam from the Twin Towers that were the target of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. The museum also has an extensive collection of works on paper, including local and national artists, manuscripts, photographs, and an archive collection.
The Denver Firefighters Museum is located at 1326 Tremont Place and is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is closed on major holidays. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors age 65 and older, as well as active-duty military and firefighters, and $7 for children age 12 and younger.
The main entrance is wheelchair accessible and does not require a ramp. However, as a historic house museum, the museum does not have access between the two gallery floors other than two staircases.
Parking is limited to curbside, with parking meters and paid lots near the museum, neither of which will accommodate large RVs. For more information, call (303) 892-1436 or visit the museum’s website at www.denverfirefightersmuseum.org.
Congratulations Kim Nelson, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Undone, the first book in my friend Jason Deas’ Burt Bigsley mystery series. We had 22 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon. Note: Due to the high shipping cost of printed books and Amazon restrictions on e-books to foreign countries, only entries with US addresses and e-mail addresses are allowed.
Thought For The Day – If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.