Richmond County firefighters have not received the go-ahead from commissioners to turn a historic Central Avenue station into a museum, but they continue to collect history to fill the building if their plan is approved.
Firefighters started volunteering their time to refurbish the building around the end of 2012 and have already addressed water damage and electrical issues, replaced the faulty plumbing and stripped old floors. Most of the work that doesn’t require a contractor is being done by the Save Our Seven group of past and present firefighters with donated funds.
“For years a bunch of us thought we should have a place to display our apparatuses without selling them off,” said Lt. Joey Smith, of Station 1. “What better place than that. It’s part of our history.”
Construction began on Engine Company 7 in 1913 and was completed the following year for about $12,000. The 6,500-square-foot building was Augusta’s first station to house motorized fire engines not drawn by horses.
One of those engines, a 1924 American LaFrance, still sits in the bay and would be an attraction if the building became a museum.
Firefighters vacated the building more than 10 years ago and have only used it for occasional firefighter training and storage.
“What we hope to do is lease the building from the city,” Smith said. “We’ve worked on it month after month but we’re still not where we need to be.”
Smith and others have visited existing fire museums like one in Charleston and hope to visit an Atlanta one operated in a previous engine house like Engine Company 7.
District 3 Commissioner Mary Davis said there was a “positive discussion” among commissioners when the plan was originally presented. She said it’s up to the lawyers to draw up a lease agreement that the commission approves. Although it isn’t clear what the cost of the building could be, she believes it will be minimal.
“I appreciate their efforts because they’re doing this on their own time,” Davis said. “I think it’s a good move for that building and a good plan for its future.”
Last year, firefighters opened the building up during First Thursday in Midtown for visitors to tour the building and learn its history. Visitors could see the historic fire engine, maps of the city, an upstairs dormitory and locker room and other memorabilia and photos.
Since then, the collection of fire department equipment has grown to include items such as an early 1900s ticker tape that served as an “early alarm system,” radios from the 1950s to present, badges and various types of fire extinguishers.
“Some of it came out of city storage and others are things that had been sold, but all of it is from around here,” Smith said.
One of the largest items is a yellow 1989 Ford C cab fire engine that firefighters at Station 1 are restoring with radios, hoses and other equipment from the era, along with a good buffing job. It was the last yellow fire engine the county bought before consolidation and the last year Ford built that model, which ran from 1959 to 1989.
Firefighters hope to restart open houses during First Thursday in April, but in the meantime, the building isn’t totally unoccupied.
Every Saturday morning around 15-30 firefighters, old and new, gather during Coffee at Seven.
“It gives the old people a chance to meet new people and vice versa and sit around and tell war stories,” Smith said.