History of the St. Augustine Fire Department
In 1845, after a Marine Street fire, came the formation of the city’s first volunteer fire department. The St. Augustine Fire Company was organized under the direction of a fire chief and the city authorized the purchase of its first horse drawn fire engine in 1847 for $450.00. During these days, the city did not own horses to pull the equipment around. So, at the sound of the fire alarm, every horse drawn vehicle within hearing distance raced toward the Hypolita Street Fire Station. The City offered a fee of $5.00 to the driver of the horse drawn vehicle whose steed arrived first and was pressed into service.
Following the devastating fire of 1887, which claimed a large portion of the downtown market place and Cathedral Basilica, the need for a paid City Fire Department became apparent. A large fire bell was installed at City Hall in 1901 which alerted residents and firefighters of fire. The City also approved a City wide alarm phone system on December 24, 1901.
In 1902 the City of St Augustine Fire Department was established. Wealthy industrialist Henry Flagler donated a building to the city, which housed our first fire station and city government offices. The first fire chief was C.P. Townsend and he had a paid force of three firefighters.
The City purchased its first horses, Dick and Harry, in 1902 to pull the hose and chemical wagon and the steam engine. The department also acquired an old mare known as “Kate”. “Kate” was tasked with pulling the ladder wagon.
It was during the horse drawn engine days that St. Augustine encountered its largest fire. On April 2, 1914, a blaze swept the heart of the city. This fire extended from St. George Street to the bay and from Treasury to Hypolita Streets. The fire destroyed hotels, stores and businesses, the court house and many private homes.
The horses ran their last alarm in 1920 with the change to mechanized equipment. By 1921, there were four paid firefighters and a 500 gallon pumper. At this time Florida’s boom years were underway and between 1920 and 1930, St Augustine’s population almost doubled to over 12,000 residents and the fire department then housed 8 full time firefighters.
During this time, a fire whistle was installed at Davenport Park. The city was divided into 7 wards and a specific number of whistle blast indicated what section of town a fire was burning. When the fire was out, one long blast was blown.
By 1949, the department had 15 men working on a two platoon system. They worked 24 hours and were off 24 hours. Up until this time, if a fireman wanted to go on vacation, a man was borrowed from the City’s Sanitation Department to fill the position.
A second fire station (Station 2) was established in 1958 to better serve the city residents on the barrier island. The station is located just outside the entrance to Anastasia State Park. It is a sub-station, with two class ‘A’ fire pumpers, providing first due protection to City areas east of the Intra-coastal Waterway. Today, this station houses 9 firefighters, assigned at 3 per 24 hour shift.
The main fire station, staffed by seven firefighters 24 hours a day, is located at 101 Malaga Street. It was dedicated on November 20, 2002, replacing the 30 year old structure located on Bridge Street. The new station sits on 1.5 acres that once was home to Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway train depot. This location improves the department’s emergency response times to the north and south without diminishing the response time to the City’s core areas. The cost of the new building and its property was $1.47 million.
This modern, 11,000 square foot station houses the department’s administrative offices, training area, living quarters, emergency response vehicles and general storage. The station also serves as the IOC (Internal Operations Center) for the City of St. Augustine. The building was constructed to be above predicted flood levels and withstand hurricane winds of 140 mph. The eight spacious apparatus bays can provide shelter for all of the department’s emergency response equipment.