Denver Firefighters Museum
1326 Tremont Place
upper downtown Denver
Hours: closed Sunday and holidays. Open every other day 10 to 4.
Bus directions: From Market Street Station, take the 16th Street Mall shuttle up to Tremont and walk southwest. Any bus that goes to the corner of Broadway and Colfax, such as the 7, will also get pretty close.
When I visited the Denver Firefighters Museum (DFM) last Saturday (before I went to the Five Points Jazz Festival), I started with the video guide, which advised visitors to speak quietly and forbade them to run. Alas, the family playing in the fire truck was breaking all the rules, their voices echoing in the open room, but it was pleasant noise, if a little deafening at times.
I spent two hours at the museum and barely made it to the second floor. I liked the DFM a lot. It’s a family-friendly museum, though I think young children would like it best. After I saw a little girl calling 9-1-1 on the plastic phone and saying, “My house is on fire” in a serious voice, I just had to do that myself. It made me feel all emotional. Then I turned around to face a pair of teenage girls. I was mortified.
In the early days of firefighting in Denver, before the 1870s, the volunteers’ motto was “We Raze to Save.” In other words, there wasn’t too much they could do about a fire except to pull down the burning building to keep the fire from spreading to adjacent structures.
And there wasn’t much protective gear until the 1920s, when equipment developed for miners made its way to firefighters. Before that, early firefighters could only hope their beards would protect them. When they had to go into a smoke-filled room, they would wet the beard and clench it between their teeth, thus filtering the smoke.
I learned such things and many more at the DFM, which is not too far from West Colfax, the Denver Mint, other government buildings, and hotels such as the Sheraton. It occupies Denver Station 1, which, oddly enough, was the second Station 1. In 1909 it replaced the first Station 1, and once Denverites’ safety from fires was ensured by the brand-spanking-new station, the city tore down the old one and built the Pioneer Monument at Colfax and Broadway in 1910. So the next time you’re standing by the Denver Post building and looking at that statue, remember that was the location of the first fire station in Denver.
Since 1975, Station 1 has been located at Colfax and Speer. The old station became the museum, and one of its strategies for survival was to run a restaurant on the second floor (sadly, now closed).
This photograph is a detail from a hand-drawn pumper, purchased in 1867, which required 15 men to pull it and 15 men at a time to pump it. The DFM has several different fire wagons, from ladder wagons to the steam engines used from the 1880s to the 1920s to more modern engines.