I recently visited the San Antonio Fire Museum for the first time since it opened last spring. Housed in the old Central Fire Headquarters building near the Alamo, it’s home to an impressive collection of equipment, photos and three renovated trucks spanning the life of the Fire Department. While browsing through the photo collection, there was one particular photograph that caught my eye: a group of firefighters stood long-faced on the dusty ground in front of their station, with a woman wearing a long white dress standing among them. The accompanying description simply called her an unknown lady. I like to think that she was a fireman’s wife there to bring lunch, or even cooking for the whole crew the day the photo was taken.
As a firefighter’s wife myself, I’ve experienced the life of the station secondhand with stories of both the bizarre and everyday calls that are made, and I’ve joined in on a number of meals over the past several years – Thanksgiving at Station No. 7 is truly a feast.
The current Station No. 7 on S. St. Mary’s and Florida has been like a second home for our family, but we, like so many residents and visitors to Southtown, can’t help but feel drawn to the old Station No. 7 on S. Alamo. Until recently it was maintained by a group of volunteers — both retired and active duty firefighters — and housed equipment now on display in the Fire Museum.
During my visit to the museum, I had the honor of meeting retired firefighter Lee Zalesky, who happened to spend his early years in the department at old Station No. 7. Zalesky described how they used to call it The Rock, because it stood alone like an island when it was surrounded by Lavaca and the former Water Street, before the days of HemisFair Park.
The S. Alamo station standing today was actually the third firehouse built on the same lot, and was thought to be the longest active fire station site in the U.S. Originally home to the Mission Hose Co. No. 4 in 1885, it was replaced with a two-story wooden firehouse in 1901 after the city took over the volunteer companies. The current three-bay station was built in 1924 and remained active until 2007 when the new station opened.
Said to be haunted by firemen who spent their lives in service to the community, it is unknown what will happen to the S. Alamo station. There are rumors of it becoming a restaurant, bar or even an art gallery. Although the old station may never see its glory days again, the camaraderie is still very much alive in the new Station No. 7. We are indebted to both the men and women serving at our station today, as well as the volunteers who have worked together for the last decade to bring the San Antonio Fire Museum to life and preserve the stories of stations like The Rock.
The Fire Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. A small donation is requested for adult visitors, and children 12 and under are free.
- Amy Johnson