The fire station at Fair Park has served the City of Dallas with distinction for almost a century. In the first three-quarters of that century, from its erection in 1907 until May 2, 1975, it was an active firehouse. Since that time it has served as the Dallas Firefighters Museum. Its importance to the community is undeniable and its place within Dallas’ history has been well recognized. The firefighters stationed there have contributed to the safety and security of the surrounding districts during that lengthy period.
The Fair Park Station was built, in the words of then Fire Department Chief H.F. Magee, in 1906, on account of the rapid growth of the city in that location, as well as for the protection of city property. Chief Magee announced in 1907 that the city was going to build and equip a station at the corner of Kentucky and Parry Ave. This station was to have a combination chemical and hose wagon and a hook and ladder truck.
The Fair Park Fire Station measures 63 feet across and 80 feet deep. The foundation was made of concrete with the structure rising two stories. The walls are constructed of brick with the outer wall being a mottled gray face brick on the street sides. The rear and side walls were of a red brick. The brick were made in Elgin, Texas and all of the other materials for the station were made in the Dallas area or from Texas.
On the first floor are accommodations for the three pieces of apparatus, the feed rooms, the fuel rooms, a workroom with tools and workbench for the repair of the horse’s harnesses. There were also five horse stalls that measured 10 by 13 feet and had a floor of sand. In front of each apparatus was a high double door that opened outward. This allowed the firemen to be at their positions and emerge from the station at full speed.
The second floor consisted of the living spaces for the firemen. This consisted of a living room, a large bathroom, and a locker room that contained a three-compartmented locker for each man. The chief that was stationed there had an office on the second floor also. The roof over the one story feed rooms was to be used for the sunning of the bedding and clothing of the men and also used as a summer garden in the evening.
The station began operations in late 1907 as Station No. 10. Assigned to Station 10 was Hose # 3, Hook and Ladder # 3, and District Chief 3. Assigned to the new station were assistant Chief J.L. Marder, Captain A.W. Coffman, W.W. Lane, John Hamlin, C.T. Dixon, C.H. Newman, W.J. Kramer, O.B. Hurt, O.L. Patterson, W.W. Karnes, S.M. Delaney, and A.M. McNeil. Along with these men, there were five tried and true veterans of the department, the horses. Frank, a fine roan horse, pulled Chief Magee’s buggy while Dick and Jim pulled the Truck. Red and Prince who were transferred from the Ervay Street fire station pulled the engine.
This station had several notable firsts in its history. It had the first horse hospital for the Dallas Fire Department. In the days of true “horse power”, if your horse got sick, they brought him here and they gave you a loaner horse. In the meantime, the members of the Fair Park Station took care of the horse and made sure he was fit for duty. At that time, they would give the company their horse back and take the loaner horse back into the pool of horses. This was only one of two stations that ever had horse hospitals at them.
Within a short time of the station going in service, a group of neighbors came by bringing fruits, flowers, and good things to eat. The firemen were treated to a house warming party and the firemen vowed to keep open the station one evening a week for the visitation of the people of the Exposition Park section of town. The station became a social and meeting point for the community and the firemen became a valued neighbor to the community.
Also the fire companies became well known and respected as a fire fighting team. Their calls started to increase and in 1911, Hook and Ladder 3 responded to 272 alarms and used 4,205 feet of ladders for the year. During that same time, Hose 3 responded to 225 alarms and laid 40,600 feet of hose for the year. In 1912, Engine Company 10 was assigned to the Fair Park Station. It’s history changes with the advance of firefighting technology during the first half of the twentieth century. The stations operation captures the impact of innovation and modernization.
In the late teens and the early twenties, the fire department started phasing out the horses and began moving into the motorized era of the Department. In 1926, a “joker” system was installed allowing the electronic communication of messages and alarms to the firemen through a device employing a telegraphic punch paper tape. This was a major advancement for the Department and the Fair Park Fire Station tested the prototype. This required that the company numbers that ended in “0″ had to be renumbered because you could not punch a “0″ in the tape. Old station 5 at Bryan and Hawkins was closed and the Fair Park Station was renumbered to 5′s and all apparatus was renumbered for the station. Thus Engine 10 became Engine 5 and Hook and Ladder 3 became Truck 5.
In 1968 the Dallas Fire Council, which was made up of 30 citizens that were interested in the fire service, discussed the idea of a Museum and suggested to then Chief Penn to establish a Museum in the Dallas Fire Department. Chief Penn appointed a committee to study the feasibility of constructing a Museum. The committee was made up from members of the community, Box 4, and the Fire Department. These members were George Thomas, Phil Lux, Sidney Quinn, Darrell Scott, M.C. Hendrix, Dodd Miller, and Jerry Lambert.
The committee decided that there was enough interest to justify the formulation of a Museum and permission was granted to use part of Fire Station No. 5 for that purpose. The seven committeemen became the first board of directors and set up the first bylaws for the Museum. The decision was made to incorporate as a non-profit organization and a 50-year charter was granted by the State of Texas for the corporation on August 28, 1970.
The Museum was started in 1972 after Truck 5 was moved to new Station 19. It was completed in three phases. Phase 1 was completed on schedule in April of 1972. This consisted of moving all of the fire station facilities of No. 5 Station to the ground floor so that Engine 5 could operate independently. Phase 2 was completed in June of 1972 and consisted of constructing the office and record keeping area on the second floor. Phase 3 was completed by October 1, 1972 and consisted of arranging the Museum Itself. The plans called for the display area to be modeled as nearly as possible to a fire station. The Museum was ready for the opening of the Texas State Fair that is directly across the street. The City of Dallas declared the Museum as a City of Dallas landmark that year. In 1975, Engine 5 was moved to the northern part of the city as Truck 57 and the Museum took over their quarters. The Museum sits today as she closed as an active fire station on May 2, 1975.
Many people have passed through the doors of the Museum since its inception in 1972 with an annual attendance of around 5,000 visitors. Generally half of these are children who can come and pretend what it is like to ride on that big red truck and learn how to protect themselves and their families from the dangers of fire. The Museum is associated with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Dallas Historical Society, and the Fair Park Marketing Center. The Museum is funded from the members of the Department through payroll deduction and through an admission charge. If the members contribute 24 dollars or more to the Museum a year, they become members of the Museum. The purpose and mission of the Dallas Firefighters Museum is to provide the City of Dallas with a thriving and a well-attended historical and educational asset. The Museum teaches fire safety, honors the fallen heroes of the Department, preserves the firefighting heritage and possibly help save the lives of some of our guests. The Museum preserves the history of firefighting in Dallas through professional quality restoration and the display of vintage tools, apparatus, and memorabilia. The Museum also teaches safety through an interactive hands-on educational experience targeted for children in the second grade and older. It is intended to develop an awareness and appreciation for safety and accident prevention. Additional programs will be able to provide materials for parents, teachers, and others.
Since the building’s centennial in 2007, the museum’s future is as bright as the day Station 10 opened in 1907. The Board of Directors is working to secure its future through the twenty first century and to ensure that the young and old benefit from its history and educational opportunities. It has anchored itself in Dallas as a sought after tourist attraction that will be a place where time is suspended a place where rookie and old-timer alike may stand for a moment, with hat in hand, and perhaps give a silent thought to all those smoke-eaters who have gone before.
The Dallas Firefighter, Volume 13, Number 3, March 1972
The Dallas Firefighter, Volume 13, Number 4, April 1972
Dallas Municipal Handbook, 1912-1913
Parade Magazine, December 1972
Dallas Morning News, November 1907