Today and every day, I’m thankful that there are people brave enough to be first responders.
In my hometown, I know quite a few lifelong fire and rescue personnel, and believe me, I know that it takes a special person to run directly into danger when everyone else is running away from it. Recently I found a wonderful museum in Tampa that both honors the city’s firefighters, as well as informs the public about what it is, exactly, that those brave men and women do.
The Tampa Firefighters Museum is housed in a downtown Tampa building that was actually a firehouse from 1911 to 1974. It’s directly across the street from, and stands in sharp contrast to, the much newer and shinier Tampa Fire Rescue Station One.
The museum’s stated mission is to preserve the heritage of the Tampa Fire Department, as well as promoting life safety education and fire prevention within the community. But the building itself is a wonderful source of fire education, too.
During its active service years, the building presided over the 63-year transformation from horse-drawn apparatus to diesel-powered rescue and firefighting vehicles. Today, the museum stands as a tribute to the city’s firefighters, past, present and future, and the rich legacy they have left.
On the day I visited the free museum, I was fortunate enough to be greeted by Joy Bunch, who said she just ran the gift shop, but was obviously much more important to the operations of the museum than she let on. There was a big Tampa Firefighters Museum fundraiser coming up, and she was in charge of registering participants. When I was up at the front, a young firefighter came in to register and she spoke with him for a few minutes.
After he left, she told me that the fundraiser was an annual one that honored a young Tampa Fire Rescue driver/engineer who had passed away a few years ago. Joy is Matthew Bunch’s mother. Now she devotes her time and resources to the 5,000 square-foot museum that holds mementoes from Tampa’s storied firefighting history, from 1895 to present.
Within the exhibit space, where horse-drawn steamers used to park, are two old fire trucks, as well as numerous hose carts. There’s a large children’s section, with a wooden fire truck they can climb upon, a big floor map where they can find their own neighborhood fire station and a wall covered with some old and newer firefighting tools. All are labeled with names and descriptions of what they do.
Upstairs is a beautiful 2,500 square-foot room and kitchen with the building’s original dark wood flooring. People can now rent out this space where firefighters used to sleep and eat for their own special events.
One of the last, and most touching, things I did before I left the museum was to visit the Memorial Room. That’s where those Tampa firefighters who lost their lives on the job are honored, with their badges displayed. There is also a video playing on a loop in the room, that shows older films of brave firefighters battling flames in the city.
And every few minutes, soft bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” can be heard.
Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at email@example.com.