BEAUMONT, Texas – Beaumont is home to some big things. Willy Burger, Spindletop, and Rao’s are a few of our favorites but just a few blocks from the bakery is a fire station with one huge hydrant.
Ami Kamara manages the Fire Museum of Texas.
“Firefighters like to hang onto stuff, is what I’ve learned in my four and a half years here,” Ami says.
Housed in Beaumont’s 1927 fire station, the building itself is part of the exhibit that honors the firefighters of our fine state. But back when this beautiful building was built, big old’ trucks weren’t the preferred method of transportation.
“Where we’re actually standing right now is where the horse stalls were,” Ami informed us. “This is where the horses lived. So, even if you look up at the ceiling now, there’s like pulleys in each stall. That’s where the horses’ harnesses hung.”
One of the most storied stallions of the station was Mayor. This stead would race to the chief’s house during fires and take the boss to the blaze.
“He was a really important part of the fire department,” Ami said. “In fact, he was so important that when he finally passed away the fire department buried him under the floor here in his station.”
Captain Tristan Barnes has been with the Beaumont Fire Department for 9 years.
“To know that a horse just put on his collar and probably knocked on a saddle and then took off to the chief’s house, the chief’s at home hanging out, eating dinner, and here comes a horse. He says, ‘Oh, I’ve got a fire. I’ve got to go. Here I go. Let’s load up and go.’ That blows my mind,” Tristan said.
Even he learns a thing or two when he comes to the museum dedicated to the men and women who came before him.
“You get to see all the ground work laid out before you,” Tristan says.” I mean horses and carriages around here, that’s awesome.”
But it’s not just about buggies. There’s also some major machinery that’s played roles in major events in our state’s history.
“So this is our light truck,” Ami said when showing us a very unique piece in the collection. “This is the, probably the very first truck of it’s kind in the world, definitely in the United States. They decided in 1931 they needed to build a truck that could light up in the night or if there was a lot of smoke. They designed and built this truck right over here in a stall over.”
Designed by Johnny Southwell, the cities engineer back in the 1920s and 30s. The truck served in New London after hundreds were killed in a school explosion caused by natural gas. There a little-known newsman named Walter Cronkite hitched a ride on this truck to tell the world what happened in the Texas town.
There is a generator inside, and there were more lights that you could bring out and take out on stands,” Ami said. “You can kind of see that in the picture here. They got the lights from a theatre in town, and it’s actually bright enough to light up two city blocks. They actually used this truck for over 50 years in the department, so even in the mid-1980s this truck was still in use.”
All this antique equipment is impressive and makes it hard to fathom how cutting edge is was back in the day but in the end, it comes down to the brotherhood of men and women who take it upon themselves to be the hero, the person who runs towards the burning building.
“It’s an amazing feeling just coming in and seeing everything that has brought the fire service to what it is today,” Tristan says.
For todays generation of Firefighters, seeing what things were like in the past makes appreciating the tools of today that much easier.
“How did they do it?” Tristan asks. “I have no idea. I have a big pretty fire truck, lots of bells and whistles. I can pump an enormous amount of water. The capabilities are endless. I’ve got a great crew, a three man engine crew. How did they bucket? I have no idea. I have no idea how the bucket brigade actually worked. It just blows my mind.”
Tristan makes regular stops to the museum, not just to reflect, but also to say hello to fans and former firefighters.
“Because of them people trust us today, and it’s great to pay respect to these guys and see how they operated,” Tristan says.