EMMITSBURG, MD – A long-awaited dream became reality here Friday afternoon when the National Fire Heritage Center opened its doors.
Unlike traditional fire museums, this one will host collections of books and documents.
Among the historic treasures on display include the log books from the first due fire department that responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as those from a fire company in Virginia that responded to the Pentagon and from Shanksville that handled the call after Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
Heritage center officials are hoping that FDNY personnel find the logbook from Sept. 11, so it also can be displayed.
The heritage center is located in the Frederick County Fire Museum, rich with local fire service history including the involvement of firefighters who formed a militia and participated in the John Brown Raid at Harpers Ferry during the Civil War.
Several years ago, a USFA study determined there was a need for a place to preserve fire service history. A number of people agreed, and set out to do just that.
Since word got out, a number of people from around the country have donated a myriad of things.
“It is our desire that we have created this archive of the perishable, the ideas, the words and even the thoughts of those that labored to protect the world from a force that has existed since the dawn of time. We can do no less than to recognize these individuals as being heroes in their own time and icons to be followed into the future,” NFHC President Ronny J. Coleman told the crowd.
Chip Jewell, director of the local fire museum, said it’s been an honor to work with the national officials. “This is the perfect location as Emmitsburg is the heart of the American fire service.”
The museum is within walking distance of the National Fire Academy.
Coleman said it’s imperative that the fire service history, the theories, be preserved. It makes him ill to think of the valuable documents and photographs that have been tossed out.
Now, he hopes the families of firefighters will hear about the heritage center and donate those collections they find in attics and basements.
He stressed that it will not be a collection of hardware, but of ideas, the written word, and photographs.
“We will commemorate those that lived full and rewarding lives and did not succumb to death on the battlefield, but their lives have ended in obscurity sometimes, in glory for others, but in all cases they have left a legacy in their wake that may not have been recognized…”
The crowd that gathered for the dedication ceremony also heard from Ben Franklin who explained how he and his neighbors organized a fire department in Philadelphia following a horrific wharf fire in 1736.
During a candid conversation with Coleman, Franklin explained that they were adamant that a fire of such magnitude never occur again.