Key West city officials on Sept. 14 voted quickly and unanimously to name the Key West Firehouse Museum in honor of Alex Vega, the retired firefighter who saved the historic building and turned it into a museum for future generations.
In keeping with the city’s penchant for verbose building names, the Key West Firehouse Museum is now the Alex Vega Firehouse Museum at the Key West Historic Firehouse.
The museum at 1024 Grinnell St. joins the long-winded ranks of the Richard A. Heyman Environmental Pollution Control Facility and the Josephine Parker City Hall at the Historic Glynn R. Archer School.
But I digress.
Alex Vega is undeniably deserving of the recognition, and I’m glad the city named it in his honor while he’s around to take pride in it.
Vega joined the Key West Fire Department in 1975 when he was 22 and retired 30 years later, having earned several commendations throughout his career. He also took on the role of volunteer historian for the fire department, meticulously researching famous fires, construction of new fire stations, technology upgrades, personnel changes and more.
In 1992, the city of Key West started talking about demolishing the historic 135-year-old firehouse that was no longer in active use, according to a press release from the city.
Vega wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he initiated the restoration and preservation of Fire Station No. 3, leading to the establishment of the nonprofit organization Old Fire House Preservation Inc. He secured grants and donations from Tallahassee and local benefactors.
“It took years of hard work and dedication from countless volunteers and other fire department retirees to establish the museum,” the press release states. “A dedicated historian and community advocate, Vega has devoted his life to safeguarding the history of his hometown. His extensive background as a second-generation firefighter, combined with his knowledge of local history, makes him an invaluable asset to the museum.”
City Commissioner and retired fire chief Billy Wardlow wrote of Vega, “His familiarity with the firefighting profession and his family’s involvement in it provide a rare insider’s perspective that resonates with visitors. Alex serves as a bridge between the past and the present, connecting generations through stories, artifacts and interactive displays. He is an irreplaceable figure in the museum’s journey.”
Vega is currently president of the museum board and still offers tours, shares stories and acts as an ambassador to firefighters everywhere.