The Condensed Story of Ponce’s Las Casas de Los Bomberos
On the 25th of January 1899 a fire broke out in a munitions depot located at the present day location of Ponce High School. Firefighters were told not to fight the dangerous fire. Seven firefighters and one civilian disobeyed this order and put the fire out, thus saving the city.
At first the firefighters were arrested and charged with insubordination. This raised such a public outcry that the charges were dropped. The firefighters were released and honored.
Seven years later, the city desired to recognize and honor its volunteer firefighters for their service. They created a system whereby firefighters and their families could receive free housing. They started with the seven firefighters that fought the fire at the munitions depot. Every year after that, an annual lottery to choose a firefighter to receive a free house was created.
These red and black wooden houses, once bestowed, have been passed down from generation to generation. There are a total of 60 of them located on Calle 25 de enero (25th of January St.) in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
In house number 37 lives a very special firefighter named Rosa. Rosa was the first woman to ever graduate from the firefighting academy in Puerto Rico. She is very proud to have been a firefighter and loves to tell her story. If you ask, she will even show you her graduation picture. Today she is retired and sells limbers from her home for 50 cents each. If you are in Ponce, stop by, say hello, listen to her story, and buy a refreshing limber. Just be aware, she doesn’t speak English.