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Efforts Underway to Launch National Fire Heritage Center

Firehouse.Com News


Susan Nicol Kyle/

Heritage Hall officers stand in front of their future home in Emmitsburg. From left: Wayne Powell, Ron Coleman, Bill Killen, Robbie Robertson and David White.


EMMITSBURG, Md. -- An initiative to establish a National Fire Heritage Center is progressing.

This venture will not be your typical fire museum with antique helmets, uniforms and equipment. Instead, this will be a repository for historic documents, pictures and logbooks.

Organizers are anxious to preserve documents relating to fire codes, disciplines, research, engineering, drawings, and photographs.

"We've put the fabric of the organization together. It's been a rather laborious process though," said Ron Coleman, president.

The executive committee met for several hours this past week at the Vigilant Hose Company in Emmitsburg, just blocks from its future home.

Plans call for the heritage center to be in the building that formerly housed the Emmitsburg Ambulance Company located just a short distance from the National Fire Academy.

The Frederick County fire museum will share part of the building as well.

"Right now, we're in the process of getting members. And, we need funds to proceed," Coleman said.

Membership categories follow colors associated with the fire service -- brass, silver, gold, platinum and diamond. The rates associated range from $25 to $500.

People who sign on at one of those levels before Oct. 1, 2009, will be considered charter members, said Wayne Powell, treasurer.

The group is deciding special membership status or designation for people who donate libraries or items needed to preserve the items.

Recently, members visited the Army museum to get an idea how they preserve artifacts. They understand how important it will be to know the process to protect the items from mold, insects and further detoriation.

"We've got to get people to know we're interested in these things. When they are cleaning out boxes in an attic or basement, many may simply take them to the dump. The smallest item could be of great significance," said James "Robbie" Robertson, secretary.

Robertson, a longtime fire service historian, swapped trivia with Coleman and Powell over lunch.

"While many can name the first to have something, many can't remember the last," Coleman said. "This is part of our history. We find it fascinating..."

Coleman's own notes will be part of the display. He was fire chief in San Clemente, Cal., when the city council passed an ordinance requiring sprinklers, the first in the U.S.

In addition to documents, the group said oral histories also are vital. Powell pointed out that EMS folks did an admirable job in preserving some of its history through interviews with key players, including the late James O. Page, considered a pioneer in the field.

During lunch, the men shared tidbits of fire service history from around the country. Robertson, retired Maryland fire marshal, said Maryland volunteers took the lead for the creation of the fire protection program at the University of Maryland.

"It was a tough sell. It wasn't getting that much support," he recalled. "There were possible conflicts of interest, so the Maryland State Firemen's Association stepped in. They were successful. Now, that program has influence all over the world."

The idea for preserving fire service disciplines isn't a new concept. A USFA study conducted in 2003 spelled the need for a repository.

"Given that the first organized fire prevention and firefighting efforts began in North American in 1648 by Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam (later to become New York City), it's amazing that no such undertaking has been established before," according to the report.

The document cover contains this from an Arlington County, Va. Fire Department logbook on Sept. 11, 2001: "Late Entry: Terrorists Bombed the Pentagon with a Commercial Airliner."

Another order in flowing, cursive writing reads: "All officers and soldiers are requested to use their endeavors to prevent fires from spreading over the country..." The order came on March 8, 1783 from Gen. George Washington.

These are the types of documents that the group is trying to save.

Officers of the Heritage Hall project include Coleman, president; Bill Killen, vice-president; Wayne Powell, treasurer; James C. Robertson, secretary; Gary Frederick, assistant secretary.

Directors are David White, Bobby Balta, Donald Briggs, Ken Dungan and Rodney Slaughter.

For more information, visit the National Fire Heritage Center's Web Site