Action With Vision: The Rebirth Of Indianapolis Fire Station 2

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision is merely biding time, but action with vision will do the impossible.”
— Joel Barker

Like the mythical phoenix consumed by fire and then reborn, so it was for Indianapolis Fire Station 2.

The building was re-numbered sometime prior to 1897 to Fire Station 8. Constructed in 1871, opened in 1872, it housed horse-drawn apparatus and protected a then-bustling mercantile district. Battalion quarters were added in 1896. A Stutz motorized apparatus replaced the horse-drawn apparatus in 1921. The city closed the station in 1932, when it was replaced by a fire station built by the Work Projects Administration (WPA). It slowly deteriorated to a point in the mid-1970s that it was considered for demolition.

“A number of people came forward and strongly objected to its demolition,” related Wayne Schmidt, principal architect. “Those objections and the vision of the fire union saved this architectural treasure from the wrecking ball.”

Fund raising began among Indianapolis firefighters to buy the structure in 1983 with a purchase made in 1984. “We had a vision that this building could be restored and used for the Union Hall,” said Tom Hanify, president of Firefighter’s Local 416. “As we thought about it, our vision became much bigger.”

The restored building now houses four success stories. The union offices occupy the old battalion headquarters. The second floor houses Indianapolis Survive Alive, including Safetyville, all of which was constructed with donated materials and labor. The old bay area has been transformed into a fire museum that has on loan apparatus from the region, including a late-1700s Merriwether horse-drawn hand pumper, an 1898 American LaFrance Type III Metropolitan horse-drawn steamer and a 1905 Combination Hook & Ladder Co. horse-drawn chemical pumper on loan from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“The restoration of the station is itself a tremendous victory but the vision and willingness of Tom Hanify to take risks to complete the memorial have produced a new landmark for the city,” proclaimed Mayor Steve Goldsmith. “This has become one of the great success stories of a very historic neighborhood.”

Short of the necessary funds to proceed beyond concept drawings, the project’s backers sold engraved bricks. At the time of the dedication, more than 2,000 bricks had been sold, raising $100,000. Bricks are still being sold to retire the remaining debt, which was financed by the Fire Fighters Credit Union.

“Our vision coupled with the support of the Credit Union, the architects, the contractors, the city and the community made this happen,” Hanify said. “We could not have done it alone but then what in this business do you do alone?”

Public Safety Director Michael Beaver observed, “One brick doesn’t seem like much. Many bricks held together with the mortar of commitment and sacrifice make an edifice of unparalleled strength, just like the fire service.”

The memorial itself is crafted of five pillars, each symbolically broken and cascading around a central pillar. The five pillars bear the names and dates of the 71 fallen heroes from the Indianapolis fire departments. Atop the central column sits a bronze sculpture of the phoenix rising amid the flames. Sculptor Dale Enochs has captured the spirit and the sacrifice that, regrettably, is too much a part of firefighting.

Indianapolis Fire Chief Keith Smith dedicated the memorial to the spirit of the firefighter as he told the more than 2,000 participants, “There is no better praise than to say we remember. Let this place pull at your heart and soul.”

The base of the memorial bears the inscription, “This memorial of stone, metal and brick was created for our fallen firefighters, brave servants of this city, who, through the love of life, dedication to duty and loyalty to their fellow man, made the supreme sacrifice. For their unselfish sacrifice, we are forever grateful. As the firefighter knows, to truly live you will also die, and, to those who fight for it, life holds a meaning that the protected will never know.”`

Peter S. Beering is the general counsel of the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety, a special arson prosecutor for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and an 18-year firefighter with the Washington Township Fire Department. He is the only prosecutor in the United States who is also a Certified Fire Investigator.