One of Ponce’s most recognizable landmarks is Parque de Bombas, the city’s old firehouse building and now a firefighting museum. This brightly colored red and black candy striped building, located at the Plaza Las Delicias town square, directly behind the Ponce Cathedral, was Puerto Rico's first ever fire station.
The building was built in 1882, originally as the main exhibit pavilion dedicated to agricultural and industrial exhibits for the 1882 Exhibition Trade Fair. It was designed by a Spanish army officer, who also happened to be a professional architect. Made mostly out of wood, Parque de Bombas draws influence from Moorish and Gothic Victorian architecture, and consist of a large and open central space flanked by two lateral towers, two stories in height. The open space was used as garage facilities for the fire trucks, and the two towers as living quarters and exhibition areas. An elegant central two-sided stairway with elaborated cast iron railing leads to a mezzanine area used as administrative offices.
The building came into use as a fire station in 1883 when a massive fire threatened to engulf the city, and volunteer firefighters started operating from the building. The firefighters fought the fire for several days before it could be extinguished. At that time, Puerto Rico didn’t have a permanent firefighting force. Its firefighters were drawn from citizens volunteering for the service.
The importance and necessity of a fire service was felt by Ponce’s Spanish Governor Miguel De La Torre in 1823. Three years earlier a large fire had occurred in Ponce that almost destroyed the town. Deeply concerned by the lack of a fire service, Miguel De La Torre made it mandatory for every male between 16 and 60 years to be a volunteer firefighter. Firefighters at this time had to provide their own fire-fighting tools such as picks, shovels, and buckets. Unfortunately, once Governor De La Torre left his post, the fire corps was also abandoned.
When another major fire occurred in 1845, Conde de Marisol, the then ruler of the island, once again created a new voluntary fire-fighting organization. The fire fighting force was reorganized in a more permanent manner in 1883, but it wasn’t until 1885 that Parque de Bombas became Ponce's official fire station —a function which it served for more than 100 years.
In 1990, the station's fire-fighting duties were fully transferred to another nearby station, and the building was converted into a fire-fighting museum. Today, you will find exhibits of firefighting equipment and memorabilia from the fire station including pictures of the heroic men who fought the 1883 fire.
Photo Credit - Jose DeJesus
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