SA Fire Museum Preserves Fire Dept. History

Newest addition to the exhibition is an 1892 Ahrens fire pumper

In 1892, the city of San Antonio purchased an Ahrens fire pumper manufactured that year by the American Fire Engine Company of Ohio. It battled many a blaze by pumping 700 to 750 gallons of water per minute and could carry up to six men if needed.

However, this horse-drawn fire pumper, also known as a steam fire engine, was retired from service in 1910 when fire engines in San Antonio became motorized. The San Antonio Fire Department then donated it to The Witte Museum in 1939. Later, The Witte loaned it to the Houston Fire Museum, until recently, when it was delivered to the San Antonio Fire Museum on August 14.

“After more than 30 years, this 1892 fire pumper has returned to the Alamo City and will now be part of our permanent exhibition thanks to The Witte Museum,” says Jim Wueste, President of the San Antonio Fire Museum. “We believe it will make a great addition to our collection of vintage fire trucks.”

The history of the fire service in San Antonio dates back to the 19th century, when every available citizen would run toward the smoke and red glow in the sky. Later, volunteer fire companies were formed, and the entire community was no longer needed to fight a blaze.
City growth and technological advances in firefighting equipment and techniques eventually led to the creation of a full-time, paid department, and in 1891 the San Antonio Fire Department (SAFD) was established.

The history of the SAFD is preserved by the nonprofit San Antonio Fire Museum, founded in 2013 and operated by retired firefighters and other volunteers. Its mission is to research, capture and display the history of the fire service as it evolved in San Antonio. The Fire Museum is housed in the former SAFD Station No. 1 at 801 E. Houston St., right across the street from the Alamo.

“Our vision is to offer the best museum firefighting experience for our guests,” says Wueste, who retired as a Battalion Chief in 2005 after 33 years with the SAFD.

Through audio and visual displays; exhibitions of apparatus, equipment, photos and records; and with docent assistance, the Fire Museum presents San Antonio’s firefighting past to visitors in an informative and historically distinctive atmosphere.

Other museum highlights include vintage fire trucks, including a 1912 American LaFrance and a 1951 Mack, which the Fire Museum often uses for parades and other special occasions. A well-stocked gift shop sells SAFD caps, T-shirts and other items; and a children’s area offers educational opportunities such as fire safety puppet shows for groups of 10 or more.

In 2016, more than 16,000 visitors toured the San Antonio Fire Museum, which, Wueste says, would not have been possible without the volunteer assistance of 40 museum volunteers, who often donate about 1,200 hours of their time each month. “We’re proud of what we do to preserve the history of our city’s fire service and to represent our brothers and sisters in the San Antonio Fire Department,” Wueste says.

A familiar face at the fire museum is that of spry 86-year-old Walter Brewer, a docent and retired firefighter who volunteers three times a week. “I enjoy interacting with people and seeing the look of astonishment on their faces when they see all of our old fire engines,” he says. “The kids have a ball, too. They like having their picture taken next to the fire trucks, and many will tell me they want to be firefighters when they grow up.” Brewer joined the San Antonio Fire Department in 1952 and helped fight fires for 32 years before retiring in 1985. Volunteering at the museum, he says, is a godsend: “It feels like being at home.”

 

The San Antonio Fire Museum, located at 801 E. Houston St., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $2 for children ages 3–12. Children under 3 are admitted free. School and group tours are available. For more information, visit www.sanantoniofiremuseum.org or call 210-390-7236.

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