Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Old San Antonio fire station begins its last days

SAN ANTONIO — Town Square has been home to a fire station since the mid 1930s.

People love to drop by for a visit. They bring plates of cookies during the holidays, leftovers after a big dinner. "That's just what firemen need," jokes longtime firefighter Greg Gude. "More food."

Some people need directions or their blood pressure checked. Kids want their picture with a fire truck, especially during the Rattlesnake Festival each fall.

"It's a unique place right now," Gude said. "It still has the presence of an old town, hometown fire department."

That's about to change. Nostalgia aside, firefighters say this is a good thing.

Soon they will give up their cramped quarters for a sparkling new 7,200-square-foot firehouse. Unlike the old 3,576-square-foot facility, it will have room for an ambulance.

Next year's county budget likely won't include extra medical personnel, but when the money does come through, residents around San Ann won't have to wait those precious extra minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Dade City or Blanton.

The station isn't moving far, only about a block away at the southwest corner of Curley Road and Pennsylvania Avenue — but away from the historic square.

Mayor Roy Pierce acknowledges the nostalgia but is upbeat: "We are excited about the new facility and that they are going to stay in the city."

Others are wistful. They love the charm of the town, having City Hall, the post office, the community bulletin board and City Park all within spitting distance.

Barbara Sessa, San Antonio's city clerk for 21 years, said she occasionally walks next door to the fire station with a few ice cream cones. She's not sure if she'll make the walk to the new station.

"I'm not saying people won't bring them goodies to the new place," she said. "But it won't be passerby traffic."

The first permanent home for San Antonio's fire department was the Depression-era stone City Hall. The exact construction date is unclear, but meeting minutes show the City Commission reviewing plans for the building in January 1934. Look closely at the building today and you'll see the board room is slightly higher than the rest of the building. That was the bay for the fire truck.

The volunteer fire department moved next door in 1976, during the 38-year tenure of volunteer fire Chief Frank Hill Jr. His son, Frank Hill III, remembers riding in a 1914 American LaFrance fire truck with his sister. They got to ring the bell. His mom was the dispatcher, and she relished the day the department bought CB radios so firefighters would never lose contact while on a call.

Long before 911 systems, emergency fire calls went to the Hill home and also to the post office, where Hill was postmaster until 1982. A chalkboard at the station showed the address of a fire for any volunteers who arrived late.

Gude, now a battalion chief with Pasco Fire Rescue, was one of about 40 volunteers when he joined as a teenager in the mid '70s.

"A lot of the locals worked right there in and around town," he said. "I worked construction, and my uncle would let us off for fires."

Over time, Gude said, medical calls became more frequent and older volunteers couldn't keep up. Younger members replaced them, but he said, "the problem with the younger generation is, they worked out of town."

After Hill retired, Mike Morgan took over as chief. He later moved on to positions with Pasco Fire Rescue and the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District. He had rejoined a volunteer organization for several east Pasco communities before recently taking over as Wakulla County fire chief.

"The volunteer numbers were getting very low," he said, referring to the years before the county took over San Antonio's fire service in 2001. "My biggest concern was, what happens when the call goes out and there's nobody available?"

The station was never intended to house career service firefighters. Some actually sleep in a room that was Morgan's office.

"Those people that are serving, they still spend a third of their lives in that facility," he said. "Every third day they're there for 24 hours. They don't need a Taj Mahal, but the quarters have to be livable."

County Commissioner Ted Schrader, who calls San Antonio his home town, said "we currently don't have the money" to add an ambulance and related staffers at the station. But he promised to push for that funding in future years. Right now, a paramedic is on a fire engine during each call. That person can provide medical care, but the department must send an ambulance from a nearby station to take an injured person to the hospital.

• • •

Mayor Pierce said he's not sure what will happen to the city-owned fire station building, but he wants "to see it stay exactly like it is." If the city continues to use it, he said, it likely would retain its historic feel. City commissioners might also rent the building to a business, such as a restaurant that incorporates a firehouse theme.

Morgan mentioned a retired firefighter who would like to dedicate a wall in the new station to the history of San Antonio's fire department.

That leaves the big question. What happens to the old-town presence in San Ann's town square?

"When the fire station moves even a block away, you may lose some of that — but you may not," Pierce said. "It's really an unknown."

Said Hill: "I think it will slightly suffer. Right now they're in the main part of the hub there. They get to see everyone and everyone sees them. But the people who enjoy the firefighters, they'll still stop by and say hi."

Lee Logan can be reached at or (727) 869-6236.

>>if you go


Crews will begin construction of the $1.4 million station in San Antonio by next month. County officials are planning a June 5 groundbreaking ceremony. The building was designed by Spring Engineering Inc. of Holiday and will be constructed by CRS Building Corp. of St. Petersburg. The station will likely take 10 months to build.

. if you go

Ground breaking

Crews will begin construction of the $1.4 million station in San Antonio by next month. County officials are planning a June 5 ground breaking ceremony. The building was designed by Spring Engineering Inc. of Holiday and will be constructed by CRS Building Corp. of St. Petersburg. The station will likely take 10 months to build.

Old San Antonio fire station begins its last days 05/19/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 19, 2012 1:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  2. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  3. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  4. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  5. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]