Big, Red Fire Trucks and Unforgotten Heroes
Writer Fadi Sitto
Photography Courtesy of Hall of Flame
Everyone knows that sound a fire truck makes. When we hear it, we instantly correlate the sound bellowing from that seemingly ginormous red motorcade to real life heroes about to save the day.
That’s how you’ll feel when you step foot inside The Hall of Flame Fire Museum: amongst heroes.
The Hall of Flame Fire Museum located in Phoenix is situated on the Papago Park grounds just across from the Phoenix Zoo. It’s an unassuming building, but once you walk in you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the scope of the museum.
The Hall of Flame is the largest firefighter and fire truck museum in the world, both in actual size and in the number of collected artifacts.
Bring your walking shoes. With over 35,000 square feet of exhibit space that tell the story and evolution of all things firefighting, the Hall of Flame Fire Museum is an eye-opening way to spend part of your day.
The museum complex houses six indoor air conditioned galleries of historical restored pieces of firefighting lore, including dozens of hand and horse-drawn fire carriages and vintage fire trucks dating all the way back to 1725.
Every single notable piece at the museum is fully restored to its original glory. My favorite might just be a striking 1870 parade carriage from Derby, Conn. (I noticed a few vintage parade carriages in the museum, and all were ornate and charming).
In addition to these fascinating manual and motorized vehicles, the museum boasts wildland firefighting artifacts, an impressive collection of antique fire helmets and a large collection of fire department arm patches from almost every city, big or small, in the United States. There’s even a 40-foot long, 12-foot high snorkel fire engine dating from 1971. You have to see it to believe it.
The museum is proudly dedicated to the historical preservation of the firefighting industry throughout the world, but especially here in the United States. It also houses the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes that recognizes American firefighters who died in the line of duty.
As you pull into the large parking lot, you’ll be greeted by this no-frills, unpretentious building that suits the humble vibe of the museum. “We put our money into the collection, not into a fancy building,” says Peter Molloy, executive director of the museum. And what a collection it is!
Molloy, a consummate storyteller, has been the director here at Hall of Flame since 1986 and is knowledgeable about every collected artifact, including the life-sized Smokey the Bear that greets you in front of the wildland firefighting exhibit entrances.
The Hall of Flame is a wonderland retrospect to the men and women who fight fires all over the world and the equipment they use to do so. The museum does an amazing job of charting the history of firefighting technology dating back to the early 1800s, to the more modern water and ladder trucks that are in use today.
The diverse restored relics were originally part of the private collection of George F. Getz Jr., who opened the original Hall of Flame in Wisconsin in 1961.
Mr. Getz, a successful Midwestern businessman with a reserved passion for collecting fire engines and fire apparatuses moved the museum’s collection to Phoenix in 1974 to the sprawling artful compound you see today.
It all started in 1955 when his wife, Olive, gave him a 1924 American la France fire engine for Christmas, and the rest is history. Today, the museum currently showcases over 130 fire engines.
An important aspect of the museum is the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes, which comprises the museum’s sixth gallery. Established in 1998, the Hall of Heroes includes the names of those firefighters who have lost their lives in the call of duty since 1800. These names are beautifully decorated on the walls.
One of the museum’s most sentimental and cherished artifacts is the Yarnell Hill fire buggy that the heroic Arizona firefighters rode upon. In 2013, 19 firefighters lost their lives during the Yarnell Hill Fire, the deadliest wildfire in Arizona history.
There is also a special memorial to those firefighters and police officers who lost their lives September 11. The gallery wonderfully and somberly houses Rescue 4, one of the rescue trucks that the FDNY firefighters drove on 9/11.
As you walk back in time and stroll past the maze of historical pieces, you’ll run into the wildland exhibit dedicated to the brave firefighters who fight wild fires. The only wildland exhibit in the country, the gallery features smoke jumpers, helitack firefighters and hot shots. Seeing these specific artifacts and reading the backstories will undoubtedly give you deeper perspective and even more admiration for these heroes.
Hall of Flame is known for being one of the most kid-friendly museums in the Valley, and popular with daycares, schools and field trip groups. They offer a fun and interactive fire safety area for kids, an old fire engine that kids can climb aboard and many hands-on demonstrations and exhibits for children.
“We have a lot of things for kids to do and kids really have a good time here,” Peter says.
Hall of Flame Fire Museum and National Firefighting Hall of Heroes succeeds in preserving and exhibiting the amazing and awe-inspiring artifacts relating to the history of firefighting. Along with their commitment to recognize and honor firefighters, this local museum that straddles the cities of Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale is great for anyone with a fascination with all things firefighting.
The Hall of Flame Fire Museum
Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sunday, Noon–4 p.m.
6101 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix
$10 adults; $8 seniors; $8 students; $4 children 3–5