DC Firehouses

DC Firehouses not only reflect the geographic expansion of the capital, but also the city as a place of diverse and vibrant communities.

A boom in the construction of municipal buildings took place during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the most critical years of the City Beautiful Movement; included in this wave of new municipal buildings were sixteen firehouses, constructed between 1897 to 1916. The development of the DC Fire Department supplied jobs to the influx of veterans returning from the Spanish-American War and again during the interwar period. By World War II, there was little undeveloped land remaining within the DC boundaries, substantially curtailing development and influencing both the design and location of firehouses. Whether firehouses predicted future neighborhood development or became a welcome addition to the community, these buildings became distinctive landmarks.

The earliest fire companies in DC were staffed on a voluntary basis, functioning much like social clubs which often advanced the careers of their members. The companies were ethnically and socially stratified: some drew their membership exclusively from the city's Italian or Irish population, while other companies admitted only doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. African American firefighters often faced discrimination when seeking promotion; to ameliorate this issue, the first all-Black company organized in 1919 with more units to follow.

DC's firehouses were identified by the names of the volunteer companies that occupied them. When firefighting professionalized in the second half of the nineteenth century, the city purchased the volunteer firehouses and the names were replaced with letters or numbers according to an established city-wide system. Engine companies, primarily featured in this tour, received numbers while hook and ladder companies, also known as truck companies, sometimes received letters. As companies consolidated, “old” firehouses were abandoned for newer facilities and companies took their names with them; hence, “Old Engine Company No. 26” is a different historic site than “Engine Company No. 26,” but the same firefighting unit. Alongside the professionalization of firefighting in the city, these firehouses feature advancements in firefighting technology, from "chemical companies," (units too far from the public water system who used chemical fire suppressants instead) to the extensive fire call box system, to the implementation of motorized apparatuses, such as fire engines or ladder trucks .

Try to spot the firehouses in your community! Some of these historic sites still act as firehouses, while others have new and creative uses.

Vigilant Fire House

While the Vigilant Fire House was built in 1844, the "Vigilant" was the first, private fire company founded in Georgetown in 1817. At that time, membership to a fire company was a minor social distinction and included fierce competition between the…

Old Engine Company No. 6

Old Engine Company No. 6 served as the first firehouse of the Metropolitan Hook and Ladder Company in Washington, DC. Built in 1862, the firehouse accommodated horses with heavy equipment. Old Engine Company No. 6 also responded to some of the city's…

Engine Company No. 22

Originally constructed in 1892 to house Chemical Company No. 2, the site of Engine Company No. 22 had ideal access to serve the emerging neighborhoods of Brightwood and Takoma Park. Established in developing areas that lacked public water service,…

Old Engine Company No. 12

When Old Engine Company No. 12 was under construction in 1896, both sides of North Capitol Street were in rapid development. By then, Washington, DC had outgrown its original boundaries and development pushed outside and even well beyond the…

Engine Company No. 17

Originally built in 1901 to house Chemical Company No. 4, this firehouse served the Brookland community which lay outside the municipal water service, making the neighborhood inaccessible to fire hydrants. By 1905 though, Engine Company No. 17 formed…

Engine Company No. 21

Built in 1908 to accommodate both Engine Company No. 21 and Truck Company No. 9, the Lanier Heights Firehouse is still in operation to this day. Erected at the outskirts of the city in 1908, the firehouse was equipped with a chemical engine for use…

Old Engine Company No. 26

Following a petition by the Northeastern Citizens' Suburban Association, Old Engine Company No. 26 formed in 1908 for better fire protection for the new Langdon neighborhood. Because the firehouse served a suburban area beyond the city's fire hydrant…

Engine Company No. 23

Engine Company No. 23 is a modest, two-story red brick firehouse in an Arts and Crafts interpretation of an Italian Renaissance Revival style. Designed by prominent architects Hornblower & Marshall and architect Snowden Ashford (1866-1927), the…

Engine Company No. 24

As the first fully motorized fire company in Washington, DC, Engine Company No. 24 demonstrates the technological advancements of firehouses in the early-twentieth century. Built originally to house horses and horse-drawn equipment in 1911, the…

Engine Company No. 19

In hopes of attracting buyers to his new neighborhood, developer Arthur E. Randle (1859-1929) donated the land upon which to build a firehouse after successfully lobbying Congress to appropriate the funds for its construction. Designed by…

Engine Company No. 27

Built in 1908 in then predominately rural Deanwood, the construction of Engine Company No. 27 served to most likely protect the railroad, as there were few residential buildings nearby. Up until 1914, Chemical Company No. 1 inhabited the space prior…

Engine Company No. 31

Engine Company No. 31 was among the new generation of modern stations built with motorized apparatuses in mind. Arranged principally on one floor, the station was similar in design to Albert L. Harris's (1869-1934) other T-shaped plan, Engine Company…

Engine Company No. 16

The three-story, four-bay-wide Engine Company No. 16 is often referred to as the "big house," since it is the largest of the city's firehouses and the only one with four apparatus bays. The building became the new home to Engine Company No. 16,…

Fire Alarm Headquarters

Washington, DC's fire alarm call box system started in the mid-nineteenth century with 25 boxes installed on main streets throughout the city. By the time the headquarters were built in 1939, there were over 1,200 call boxes placing calls to local…