Ponce, Puerto Rico, is probably best known for its Parque de Bombas (Pump Park) located at Plaza Las Delicias, the city square. However, this old fire station overshadows a street only a few blocks away, where the firefighters lived after battling a hellish fire that threatened to destroy the whole city.
The famous fire happened after the United States seized control of Puerto Rico. As part of its military operations, it built a munition deposit at Comerio Street for storing gunpowder and explosive weaponry, among other equipment. There was also a stable for the horses and the mules used to drag the artillery, as well as plenty of hay to feed them.
The citizens of Ponce at the time were concerned about the possibility of a fire starting at the deposit. Eventually, their fears came true. The night of January 25, 1899, a fire (known historically as El Polvorín) started in the hay warehouse and soon threatened to ignite the munition deposit.
The good news was that the Pump Park was only three blocks away, so a quick response by the firefighters was possible. However, military authorities ordered them not to engage the flames, fearing for their safety (this is speculation as the true reasons are unknown). Seven firefighters and one civilian, however, chose to disobey the orders and extinguished the flames.
The group received an unexpected reward for their efforts: punishment for insubordination. But the citizens of Ponce rallied in their support, and they were eventually pardoned and revered as heroes. In appreciation for the firefighters, the city decided to give them free housing. Once a year, a new firefighter and his family would win a small wooden house during a raffle held during La Candelaria, a traditional firefighter celebration. One house was raffled off each year, until the mid-20th century.
Today, the houses still stand after being restored in 1991 as an effort to preserve the city’s history. They are currently occupied by descendants of the firefighters. The street they are in was renamed Calle 25 de Enero (January 25 Street) in reference to that eventful night.
Know Before You Go
Typing ''Casitas de los Bomberos'' in Google Maps should give you the directions; they're a few blocks away from ''Parque de Bombas'' at the town square. Please be respectful, since this is still an active residential area.