CIVIC

A Glimpse Inside Engine House No. 2 and St. Louis’ Historic Fire Department

Engine House No. 2, the busiest fire station in the city of St. Louis, can claim a rich history going back to before the founding of the paid fire department. No. 2 still carries the name of the Union Fire Company No. 2, one of the volunteer fire companies that were replaced by the modern fire department.

Engine House No. 2 resides in what was originally known as the Municipal Services Building, a National Register property. Built in 1927-28 on land that was once owned by the Chouteau family, the founders of St. Louis, the building replaced the old “Four Courts” courthouse. In fact, that entire part of Downtown was being rebuilt with the addition of the new Civil, Criminal and Federal courthouses and the Central Library, arranged around a series of public plazas that were anchored by City Hall. What had been a neighborhood of houses that dated to the Civil War were swept away by urban renewal.

Modeled off of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, the Municipal Services Building was a combination of a power plant, to provide steam heat for government buildings, and a centrally located fire station and training facility. The training facility, while still intact, has been replaced by a new facility at the department headquarters at Jefferson and Cass Avenues.

As automobiles became more common in the 1920s, the large municipal garage that shares space with the fire station even had its own gas pumps for fire engines and city employees. While the power plant, which closed with the passage of the Clean Air Act, has now been converted into offices for Cannon Design, the building still largely serves the same function as it did when voters passed a bond issue to beautify the center of Downtown St. Louis.

Today, several dozen firefighters and paramedics are on duty during a normal shift. With three fire trucks, the fire station can handle many different challenges of its Downtown location. On an average day, the majority of calls the station receives are for car accidents and medical emergencies. One firefighter explained that there was once a stable in the building, as the department was still using horse-drawn fire engines in the first years of the station’s operation. They speak of their pride at working at the busiest fire station in St. Louis, and as a few of the firefighters suggest, perhaps the Midwest.