The History of the Midtown Fire Station

E-5 1881 alexandrine near cass

The original home of Engine 5, on Alexandrine East of 2nd Avenue circa 1881. The current building is referred to more often as Ladder 20, or Squad 2. Engine 5 was disbanded in 2012. — Photo courtesy of Sheryl Jayson, Detroit Fire Department Legacy.com

OK, that’s not actually the formal name of the fire station located just off of 2nd Avenue and Alexandrine, which is not quite one block east of the El Moore, as you will see in this very detailed and helpful historical description generously provided by Ms. Sheryl Jayson, who responded to my emailed request for more information about this structure. I doubt I could describe it any better than she did, so I’ll just let her tell you the story herself. It should be noted that the firemen of Squad 2 have been very important and active members of the Cass Corridor/Midtown neighborhood for years.

The fire station you are referring to was built in 1909 (just 10 years after the opening of the El Moore when the neighborhood was experiencing a very active growth phase) and underwent extensive interior renovations in 1998/1999. During the renovations fire companies from this station were temporarily placed at another location.

There was another, smaller fire station at this location that stood from 1877 – 1909. I have attached a picture of it taken in 1881. This station originally housed Engine 5, but was built with extra room in anticipation of adding additional fire companies as the department and the city grew.

In 1909 Engine 5 (and all engines in Detroit) was a steam powered fire engine pulled by 3 horses.  It was accompanied by Hose Wagon 5 (also horse drawn). In 1910 Detroit purchased their first gasoline powered engine.  I cannot tell you exactly when Engine 5 was replaced by a gasoline pumper, but I know it was done prior to 1922 when the department discontinued use of  the last of its steam engines and the last fire horses were placed into retirement. Engine 5 was disbanded in 2012.

When this station opened, the fire department and the city were growing rapidly and embracing new technology. In 1908 the department was the first in the nation to use a gasoline powered automobile as a fire vehicle. The 6- cylinder Packard was called Engine 30 , but later dubbed the “Flying Squadron”.  It responded with extinguishers, axes, hooks and 12 men. There were cars that chiefs drove slightly before this, but none used as a response vehicle.

In October 1910, Engine 34, later called Flying Squadron #2, was organized and housed at this station with Engine 5. It was disbanded from 1917-1920 when it was again in service here. They were moved to another station in 1972, back in 1973, moved again in 1981 and came back in 1999.  The “flying squadron” name has been shortened to simply squad. Squad 2 continues to serve out of this location.

In 1921 Ladder 20 was organized and located here. They continue to serve at this location. It is typical within the department to refer to our fire stations by the engine company housed there. Although Engine 5 was disbanded in 2012 many people still call this fire station Engine 5. It is also starting to be referred to as Squad 2 or Ladder 20.

About Keith Owens

Keith Owens is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and musician whose most recent work has been featured in Model D Detroit, BLAC Detroit, and the national political affairs blog PoliticusUSA. He has also published three novels through Detroit Ink Publishing (www.detroitinkpublishing.com), the eBook publishing company he co-founded with his wife, Pamela Hilliard Owens. Keith and Pam live in a 100-year-old home in the Historic Boston-Edison District a few miles north of the El Moore.

El Moore