September 22, 2005
Gone are the horse stalls and the bins where hay and grain were stored. Missing, too, is the fire pole. And the beds where firefighters slept. Even the second-floor porch where, early in the 20th century, they scanned the Front Range for fire.
Old Fire Station No. 4 — the last Colorado Springs firehouse to use horse-drawn equipment — has lost much of its character. Its bricks are worn and the interior a shell of its original 1909 glory. Since the firefighters left in 1971, the little building at 29 S. Institute St. has been a union hall, a paramedics’ bunkhouse, a home for peaceniks and a target of rock-throwers and arsonists. In 2002, it was at risk of being razed as part of an 8-acre parcel being sold by Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, which owns the old St. Francis hospital across the street. Last month, though, it escaped demolition and landed in the arms of a group of retired firefighters led by Ray Perkins. Penrose-St. Francis Chief Executive Rick O’Connell agreed to donate the firehouse and the corner where it sits to the Dr. Lester L. Williams Fire Museum. “It would have been a lot easier to tear it down and sell it,” O’Connell said. “We chose not to. It would be sad to see it torn down. It’s part of our city’s history.” Now comes the job of raising money to restore the firehouse and turn it into a museum. Perkins hopes it will happen once folks know its history. It was built in 1909, the same year Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer died, to protect St. Francis Hospital, the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in Shooks Run and the old Sinton Dairy in the Hillside neighborhood. Built at the same time was Firehouse No. 3, an identical building, which now is a sports bar at 817 W. Colorado Ave. The only older surviving city firehouse is Firehouse No. 1, which opened in April 1883. It stands at 18 S. Nevada Ave., but was long ago converted into a city utility building. The current No. 1 was built in 1925. Preserving old No. 4 as a firehouse was a priority for Perkins and others, including retired firefighter Don Fooshee. It’s a classic neighborhood firehouse: It had a large door in the rear where two horses would enter and go to their stalls. Hay was loaded in a second-floor door. Inside the garage, an overhead rig lifted harnesses onto the horses so they could be hitched to the fire wagon and run out the large front door. Fooshee pointed to a hole in the ceiling of the garage. “That’s where the fire pole came down,” he said, recalling how he often slid down the pole, and how his son shimmied up it and slid down. Fooshee joined the department in 1958 and a year later was driving fire trucks from Station No. 4. “It was a good old station,” he said. “I loved working here.” The horses were gone by 1916, when the Springs boasted one of the first all-motorized fire departments in the nation. Perkins and Fooshee want to restore the firehouse to its 1971 form. The estimated price is $360,000 to undo 34 years of changes. Tenants added walls, a new heating system and a bathroom and made other changes. Most will go. Removing windows to restore the large front garage door is planned, along with restoring the fire pole, which they found in Manitou Springs. Eventually, they hope to turn Fire Station No. 4 into an annex of the existing fire museum on Printers Parkway. They want to display old hoses, buckets, nozzles, extinguishers and historic photos. Maybe even a piece of the original wooden city water mains — trees hollowed out, wrapped in steel and pounded together. Next month, the group will petition the Colorado Historical Fund for a grant. And it hopes to attract donations. “We started this in 1997,” Jenkins said. “It’s been a long process. But this is such a great old building. There’s so much history here.” Tell us about your neighborhood: 636-0193 or email@example.com