The Original Volunteer Fire Stations and Apparatus
The history of the Austin Fire Department fire halls (term given to the fire stations of the volunteer era), fire stations, and fire apparatus is a colorful account, which begins in the 1840´s and continues until today with the growth of the Austin city limits. The first fire halls were wood frame buildings consisted merely as meeting places and the first apparatus were nothing more than wooden fire buckets and a hand pumped garden sprayer.
The history of Austin´s first fire apparatus and fire halls originates with Austin Hook and Ladder Fire Company Number 1 in the late 1850´s. The first truck was built entirely in Austin by John T. Brown, a well known blacksmith, carriage maker, and wheelwright. The company used wooden fire buckets at first, but was soon supplied by leather fire buckets purchased in New York. The first home of Hook & Ladder #1 was in Peck´s Hall, a two-story frame building located on 6th street on the southeast corner of the Driskill Hotel block. The company bounced around the area for roughly 25 years until it built the first Central Fire Station at 114 West 8th street in 1885. Hook & Ladder #1 continued to operate a hand-drawn ladder truck until the mid-to-late 1880´s. The first horse-drawn apparatus in Austin was credited to Hope Hook and Ladder Number 2, a short-lived Austin fire company (1875-1882). Colorado Fire Company Number 2 housed with Hook & Ladder #1, while the other fire companies built permanent fire halls geographically spaced throughout the city. Today, the only fire halls that date back to the horse drawn era are Washington´s 1885 hall at 605 Brazos Street, Protection´s 1890 hall at 1618 Lavaca Street, North Austin´s 1905 hall at 3002 Guadalupe Street, and West Austn´s 1906 hall at 1000 Blanco Street. Of all the old volunteer era stations, West Austin #7´s fire hall is the only firehouse still in operation and is currently named Fire Station 4.
The first alarm systems in Austin consisted of cries of fire, three consecutive pistol shots, or the ringing of church bells. By the 1890s, the fire halls of Central Fire Station #1, Protection #3, East Austin #4, and South Austin #5 all had fire bells. (Central´s fire bell is still around today in the bell tower of Our Lady Guadalupe Church in East Austin.) Also by the late 1890s the Austin Fire Department had a very sophisticated telephone alarm system. When a resident would call to report a fire, the call would be sent to the Central Fire Station. Central would then press a button that would automatically notify all other fire companies at the same time of the fire and where it was located (six rings for Sixth Ward, for instance). That same pressure released weights that opened the stall gates; the horses then rushed to the truck or hose reel, the driver snapped the harnesses, mounted to the seat, pulled a cord throwing open the doors to the truck house, and drove out. The time record for companies getting out, actual service, was from six to ten and twelve seconds.
The City of Austin purchased its first motorized fire engine in 1912 and placed it at North Austin #6 AT 3002 Guadalupe Street. Colorado #2 was the next company to motorize and by 1922 all of the Austin Fire Department´s front-line apparatus were motorized.
In 1916, the Austin Fire Department transitioned from volunteer to paid. Please refer to the outcome section of this website to see how the fire station numbers changed into their modern number system. Also in 1916, Fireman James T. Glass was mortally wounded at a fire on Congress Avenue. His badge number 13 was permanently retired in his honor, which is why the Austin Fire Department does not have a Fire Station 13.