- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

There is a lot of history inside the fire station at 439 New Jersey Ave. NW — 200 years, to be precise.

The District of Columbia Fire Department Engine Company 3, the city’s first fire company, was formed in 1804 and celebrated that milestone last week.

“I guess the biggest thing you could say about Engine 3 is that they’re survivors,” said Walter Gold, 68, volunteer administrator of the Friendship Fire Association and executive director of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Museum, a one-room collection tucked away on the third floor of the firehouse.

The company, he said, rose from the ashes after the British burned down its original station in 1814.

The history of Engine Company 3 is a story that follows the life and expansion of the city itself. The unit began as the Columbia Company, which was all-volunteer, in September 1804 on the east side of the U.S. Capitol.

The volunteers became professionals when they joined the Washington City Fire Department in 1864.

In 1916, the company moved to its current home on New Jersey Avenue.

In 1993, Mr. Gold led efforts to list the building with the National Register of Historic Places and use the third floor of the firehouse for the city’s only fire museum.

The first two floors of the building house two fire engines and the emergency medical services ambulance, as well as the kitchen, dining room and bathrooms serving the second-floor living quarters. But at the top of the house’s original 41-step winding staircase — built that way so that the original inhabitants of the engine room, a team of horses, wouldn’t climb them — is Mr. Gold’s dream turned reality.

“I’ve had this dream for 10 years,” Mr. Gold said. “I was told by the fire chief that it was going to take a lot of money and good luck, and we’re here.”

The work in progress won’t be open to the public, however, until the museum raises the $50,000 to $85,000 needed to install the required elevator.

The museum is home to D.C. fire department relics dating back to the 1800s. Displays of old fire helmets, belts, patches, and a fire bucket that originally belonged to Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” all have their place. In one corner of the room is a replica of the Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.

In another stands a fire safety net from the 1940s.

People donate all the relics, Mr. Gold said, as they find them in their basements or forgotten boxes, and most of the work that went into renovating the room was donated, as well.

Mr. Gold doesn’t think of the museum as belonging to him or to the Friendship Fire Association.

“This is not ours,” Mr. Gold said. “We are just custodians.” It belongs, he said, to the men and women who have served as D.C. firefighters.

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