“Man is the only creature that dares to light a fire and live with it. The reason? Because he alone has learned to put it out.” – H.J. Vandyke
If you haven’t seen the Key West Firehouse Museum recently, you haven’t seen it.
Though celebrating its 10th year, “Key West’s hottest attraction” has a whole new look, a new website, an expanded volunteer board, including former Fire Chief Eddie Castro’s wife and daughter, new exhibits, new signs, a children’s section, a gift shop and a retired firefighters’ lounge.
The transformation started earlier this year, after the museum’s longtime resident manager resigned and moved to Texas.
Built in 1907, the Key West Fire Department’s Station No. 3, at the corner of Virginia and Grinnell streets, was a fully functioning facility until 1998, having evolved from a station in the early 1900s that kept horses, feed and a coal pit on the property to operate the horse-drawn fire engine that used steam power to pressurize the water in its hoses.
As technology and automobiles advanced, the original stall doors on the building had to be heightened to accommodate modern fire engines.
But the traditional fireman’s pole has always been present, connecting the second-floor bunk room with the engines (or horses) below. That bunk room is seen today as it was in the 1990s.
The museum traces firefighting history from the 1800s through today in Key West and beyond.
“This museum has a reputation around the world because Key West has always been among the best firefighting outfits,” said museum founder and fire department historian Alex Vega.
After the Great Fire of 1886 wiped out much of the city’s downtown area, significant steps were taken so it would never happen again. And for the past 137 years, the Key West Fire Department has skillfully protected and preserved one of the largest collections of historic wooden buildings in the country.
The Key West Firehouse Museum shares that history in a “non-museum way that’s a fun way to see and experience this history and these stories,” said volunteer board member David Sloan.
“We have so much to celebrate in this, our 10th year,” Vega said.
The mamey fruit tree that has towered over the fire station for 114 years is still producing the popular local fruit, and the museum will celebrate the fruits of everyone’s labor at an ice cream and mojito party at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, June 24.
The museum will be open that evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. so people can explore the revitalized space. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but as volunteers and staff increase, so will the hours. For more information, visit keywestfire.com.