Workers in downtown Vineyard Haven never needed a watch to know when it was lunchtime. They had their reminder every day when the noon whistle blew from the fire station on Beach street. The sound made dogs howl and, according to an old account from the Gazette, one day a horse died of fright following the whistle blast.
The whistle is gone now, along with the old fire station, which came down two weeks ago in a cloud of brick and plaster dust and two-by-fours that crumbled like matchsticks. Built in 1958, the fire house had a long and distinguished life. It had three bays, and early pictures of the square building with its brick facade showed three labels over each bay: Engine 1, Engine 2 and Forest Fire. A photograph taken later reflected changing times; the bays had been repainted with Ladder No. 1, Engine No. 1 and Legion Pumper, a special bay for the American Legion pumper, whose crew members were all veterans.
There was plenty of Vineyard-style controversy before the firehouse was built: location and cost were at the center of a debate that went on for two years. Eventually the town settled on the Beach street site that would house the fire department for the next fifty-five years. Volunteer firefighters responded to their first call from the new firehouse in February 1958: a flare-up on the kitchen range of Clara Baptiste.
Early this year the Tisbury fire department moved into modern quarters at the town’s new emergency services facility on Spring street, a state-of-the-art facility designed to serve the town for the next fifty years and beyond.
Meanwhile, the Beach street property sits vacant and waiting for new life, perhaps as a gateway to Veterans Memorial Park which it abuts, or perhaps as something else.
Whatever the town decides, it would be nice to keep some small vestige or monument to the old firehouse at the spot, an enduring reminder of the selfless work of firefighters that went on from that spot for more than half a century.