Providing a panoramic history of the Houston Fire Department from the late 1800s through the 1980s, the digital collection features images of fire trucks, fire stations, firefighters in action battling blazes, and some of the department’s Fire Chiefs through the decades. The collection contains more than 190 color and black and white photographs.
Among the highlights of the collection is the 96-page Souvenir of Houston, published for the benefit of the Firemen's Relief Fund in 1897. The booklet is an early-day guidebook to the city, complete with photos of downtown streets, buildings, and fire stations in the 1890s; advertisements for local retail, manufacturing, and railroad businesses; and pages of text expounding on the many benefits of life in Houston at that time.
The collection also includes many pictures of groups of firefighters posing with their trucks, helping trace the evolution of firefighting technology over time. The department had about 50 horses to pull its wagons in 1910, but by 1921 all of the horse-drawn fire carriages had been replaced by motorcars and trucks. Action shots, meanwhile, capture firefighters combating infernos at lumber yards, restaurants, apartments, and other buildings.
As Houston grew in size through land annexations, such as that of the Houston Heights in 1918, the fire department incorporated more and more outlying stations. Anchoring the portrait of the city’s fire stations through the years is a pictorial series of 67 fire stations photographed in 1976 – illustrating how big the department had grown from its early days of only a handful of stations in the early 1900s.
The majority of the photos come from the collection of Scott Mellott, a Houston Fire Department retiree who has done extensive research on the department’s history.