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Kaunas Fire Station

Kaunas, Lithuania
1 of 15
ugniagesiu rumu karikatura

It is recorded that the city of Kaunas was completely burnt down twice. The first significant firefighting efforts took place at the beginning of the 19th century when citizens started to form fire brigades on their own initiative. In 1808, a fire brigade of the city police was established in Kaunas. A few years later, as financial resources grew, police firefighters were provided with more tools and uniforms, and their food and salaries were provided on a regular basis. Night fire watch teams start operating - for the first time in history, the city's residents can sleep more soundly. Fire safety gains momentum as Kaunas becomes the temporary capital.

As the city grows more than sevenfold between the wars, the problem of lack of equipment and personnel, mentioned in an article in the 1920s newspaper "Lietuva", becomes even more acute. In order to ensure the safety of the population, the Kaunas Volunteer Firefighters' Association was founded in 1921. In the same year, the Military Fire Brigade was set up, and a Praha car was purchased, the only one of its kind in the country at the time. The horses that had long helped the firefighters are gradually replaced by fire engines - the motorisation of firefighting begins. A few years later, Kaunas firefighters are on the road in the well-known Daimler and Chevrolet cars, and ladders and other advanced equipment are purchased.The city's life is greatly facilitated by a centralised water supply network, which began in 1928. It is also easier for firefighters, as hydrants (made mainly by the German company Ber-Reuter, which were also manufactured in Kaunas at the narrow-gauge foundry) are now sprouting up alongside the water supply system. However, before the complete modernisation of fire safety, the city needed to install automatic fire alarms.
In the 1930s, the Fire Station building was constructed, which added a new, modern face to the city. At the intersection of I. Kanto and Nemunas Streets, on the site of the former Pieno market, a remarkable firefighting fortress with three towers rises. The building was designed by the engineer-architect E. Frykas, the constructor P. Markūnas, and constructed by the contractors D. and G. Ilgovskiai brothers. The technical supervision of the works was carried out by architect J. Peras and engineer A. Jokimas. The construction was supervised with equal care by the richly decorated Chief of the Kaunas Fire Service, Brandmajor Povilas Maksimovas, who is also considered to be the initiator of the construction. It is not surprising that the site chosen for such a building was next to a fast-flowing river, with the harbour in front of the site, which was also surrounded by the fire from time to time.

The fire station building is like a palace, with two rectangular towers on either side of the main façade, which organically follows the river's curve. In front, the curve forms an oval plaza for the parking of fire trucks. The irregular, three-storey volume of the building consists of three bays which enclose the courtyard. The building is constructed of reinforced concrete (a network of columns and beams with reinforced concrete slabs). The walls are of plastered brickwork—transparent, glass block strips in the corridors and upper part of the walls. The floor and staircase coverings are mosaic concrete.

Most of the first floor of the main block was used as a garage, which could accommodate as many as fifteen cars. Above the garage, the firefighters had living quarters and restrooms, with 24 people on each shift. As there was practically no vacant land in the central part of Kaunas in the 1930s and 1940s, the third floor of the firehouse was used for public purposes. It housed the Pedagogical Museum, the Vincas Kudirka Library and a bookstore. Charity events were also held in the hall on this floor. The ground floor of the building, on Nemunas Street, housed shops. On the second floor, there were two flats for the Brandmajor and the Brandmeister (head and deputy). The third floor housed a pawn shop.

The architecture of the building is modernist; the symmetry of the main façade is emphasised by two towers, one with a staircase, the other serving more as a compositional counterweight. The corners of the two towers are topped with blades, which are flanked by pilasters extending the full height of the towers. The concave façade consists of repeating vertical segments containing a garage door, rows of equally spaced windows, and decorative niches. The facades are inlaid with special medals commemorating the anniversary of Vytautas the Great. The third tower, 25 metres high, is more utilitarian - it is intended to view the surrounding area and dry fire hoses.

Young independence stumbles under the weight of the Second World War - the flames return to Kaunas. In July 1944, the retreating German army took away all fire engines and equipment. As the city battles, an aerial bomb hits the neighbouring Fire House. The fire spreads to the palace, severely burning the second and third floors, but the damage is repaired before the end of the war.

Today, it is home to the first team of the Kaunas Fire Rescue Board. Despite the fact that the building was designed many decades ago, it is still perfectly capable of fulfilling its functions today, but most importantly, its masonry preserves the memory of a modern and ambitious state and is one of the city's most distinctive symbols of this.

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