CubaPLUS Magazine

The Firefighters Hall of the Historic Center

By: Amanda Bedia, Fotos: Alexis Rodríguez
Jun 17, 2024
The Firefighters Hall of the Historic Center

The so-called Firefighters Hall of the Historic Center of the Cuban capital is harmoniously related to the environment that surrounds it, of high heritage values, and also has a very interesting story to tell. It belongs to the Directorate of Cultural Heritage of the Office of the Historian of Havana, and is an installation dedicated to honoring the memory of the victims of an accident of gigantic proportions and terrible consequences that occurred at the end of the 19th century in the Isasi hardware store, in La Havana.

DSC_3781.jpgA lot of time has passed and yet the tragedy is still remembered because it claimed the lives of dedicated firefighters and citizens. That ill-fated event that has become a bit of a symbol took place on the night of Saturday, May 17, 1890. The flames were noticed at 10:30 pm, when the watchman (night guard) who was carrying out the patrol, upon arriving near Mercaderes and Lamparilla, saw that a fire had broken out and raised the alarm.

The Municipal Firefighters and Commercial Firefighters quickly arrived, whose members showed off their courage and dedication to service, trying to put out the fire with the help of neighbors, police officers, and passersby. The flames were intense and an hour later, in the middle of the work, an unexpected explosion occurred that took the lives of several people. The final balance was 39 deaths, of which 26 turned out to be firefighters, nine from the municipal group and 17 from commerce; a member of the Navy, four law enforcement officers, eight neighbors, and more than 60 injured and mutilated.

Havana woke up full of consternation and mourning the following Sunday, with businesses closed and celebrations suspended. The mortal victims were laid to rest in the galleries of the Palace of the Captains General, from where the crowd of members of the funeral procession that accompanied them made a mournful journey to the necropolis of Colón.

As a tribute to those sacrificed in the tragic event, on June 24, 1897, a monument was erected to the deceased firefighters in the tomb of the Colón cemetery, sponsored by the Havana City Council, which remains to this day with its overwhelming beauty. . This unique Museum, which also honors the noble profession and its protagonists from all over Cuba, is located on Calle Mercaderes in Old Havana, in the building that the Isasi Hardware Store occupied. Inaugurated on May 17, 1995, there is a plaque placed in front of the building that remembers the sad event and includes the names of the deceased.

Once inside, the visitor will be able to see suits, helmets, medals, insignia, pitons, megaphones, axes and other objects used by the city's fire departments. A graphic mural painting shows the event of the Isasi Hardware Store and also the animal-powered steam pump car used by the Municipal Firefighters (Havana City Council, 1901), the model of a car bomb from the early 20th century and a fire extinguisher 350-pound human-powered machine from the 19th century.

The Firefighters Hall opens its doors to the public during daylight hours only, from Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30 a.m.

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