Museum showcases 175 years of fire service

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Fort Wayne Fire Department is celebrating 175 years of service this year. The department’s history is staying alive within the walls of the old Station 3 on West Washington Boulevard.

“We have people come from all over the United States that stop in and check out the equipment,” Don Weber, a retired Fort

1927 Ahrens-Fox fire truck
1927 Ahrens-Fox fire truck

Wayne firefighter said.

Weber was on the department from 1962 to 1983. He’s also spent decades compiling photos and news clippings of fires and department events. Now more than 9,000 photos dating back to 1860 are cataloged with the Allen County Public Library.

Photo Gallery | Historic photos of the Fort Wayne Fire Department 

Weber also helped establish the Firefighters’ Museum, which is full of old apparatus, equipment and photos. The building was originally built as Station 3 in 1893. In 1907, two more bays were added and there was a third expansion in 1909.

Horse-drawn fire trucks were used from when the department was created in 1839 until 1920. There were doors on the horse stalls that were linked to the alarm. When there was a call, the stall doors would open.

“The horses were trained and they would walk out and stand in front of their rig where they were supposed to be,” Weber said.

The museum also shows how calls were made. There used to be alarm boxes on street corners around the city. They could be pulled if there was a fire and that would signal a bell in every station. How the bell would ring would indicate which alarm was pulled. The firefighters would then look up the card for that alarm box to see which engines were the first response.

“The fire might be a block away, so someone had to stand there and tell them where to go when they got there,” Weber said.

This 1848 hand pump needed six people on each side to operate. Crews would rotate turns pumping every 90 seconds or so.
This 1848 hand pump needed six people on each side to operate. Crews would rotate turns pumping every 90 seconds or so.

The hose tower is also still in its original condition.

“A guy would climb up to the top and he’d stand up there and they would hoist hose up there and he’d throw it over a rack and it had to hang there for six days before it was dry,” Weber explained. “There was a cotton jacket on the hose so it had to dry or it would mildew when they put it back on the truck.”

The fire department was a volunteer department from its creation in 1839 until 1881. It became a paid department in 1882. Shifts used to be drastically different too.

“When the fire department first started, they worked 29 days in a row and lived right here at the fire house. Their families would bring baskets of food in and kids would come here and eat their meals,” Weber said.

In 1920, the department hired a second shift and firefighters would work 24

Horse-drawn steam pumper
Horse-drawn steam pumper

hours and then be off 24 hours. In 1965, a third shift was created for the schedule that is still used today of 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

In the museum, cases and cases show how safety and technology have improved, but in 175 years, one thing’s never changed.

“I know they say this all the time, but it’s a big family. We did everything together. You live together,” Weber said.

The museum is located at 226 West Washington Blvd. It’s open weekdays, except for Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s closed Sunday and most holidays.

It costs $4 for adults and $3 for seniors and students (K-12). Children five and younger are free. There are also group rates available for scheduled guided tours.

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