Last April, Museum Association members attended a five-day event to mark the century-old fire, bringing along three steam fire engines, horse teams and logistical support, led by LACoFD and Torrance city firefighters. Fittingly, these steam fire engines were same type used to respond to the San Francisco fire in1906. They proudly participated in a number of events and static displays for the public, including two head-turning parades attended by more than 50,000 people in downtown San Francisco.
The fire caused by the Great San Francisco Earthquake began on April 18, 1906, destroying a great part of San Francisco in just three days. It was the greatest conflagration ever witnessed. The first jarring shock struck at 5:12 a.m., and lasted 28 seconds. On that fateful morning, residents awakened to the terrifying spectacle of their city's destruction. Within a few hours, 52 fires had started, many of which would have been general alarm blazes even under ordinary conditions. Three days later, an estimated 2,300 people were dead, including San Francisco Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan.
The County of Los Angeles Fire Museum Association, formed in the mid-1970s by two Los Angeles County firefighters, is a California non-profit public benefit corporation of 2,500 members. Its mission is to promote and preserve historical fire apparatus, equipment, and artifacts in keeping with the fire service tradition for the benefit of Association members, the Fire Department, and for the education and enjoyment of the public. For more information, please visit their website at www.clafma.org.
Long Beach Press Telegram
THEY THINK A FIREFIGHTER MUSEUM IS A HOT IDEA. GROUP HOPES INVESTORS WILL AGREE.
Sunday, July 10, 2005 - Imagine a gallery of vintage fire engines and gear, a restaurant that serves firehouse specials and an interactive classroom where children could apply math and science to fire-fighting situations.
Members of the County of Los Angeles Fire Museum Association hope the image will attract city officials and businesses into investing in a 40,000-square-foot multipurpose building that would incorporate a library, educational center, gift shop and restaurant and bar.
"We have a great collection that's targeted to the county fire department, but we also have a good representation of the last 100 years of firefighting," said Joe Woyjeck, president of the museum association.
The fire museum concept has been around for the last 20 years, when the 2,700-member museum association was established as a private entity sponsored by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The association began aggressively seeking sites about five years ago, when the former president, the late James O. Page, updated the organization's bylaws and created insurance and building funds for future projects, including the acquisition of a facility.
Six months ago, the association hired Matt Knabe, vice president of Los Angeles-based MWW Group and younger son of Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Don Knabe, to develop a business plan for the multifaceted museum.
"You have firefighters whose heart and soul is the Fire Department and the history and tradition of the Fire Department," Knabe said. "They know the department and services. I'm just trying to give them focus on how to market it, develop and create a plan and fund-raising."
The 14-point plan, to be marketed on a DVD, includes:
"Our guys are excited about that because we've got tons of retirements, people getting married, all kinds of reasons for people to get together," Woyjeck said. "It would be a big selling point in our department alone."
Affording the acquisition of a building and start-up costs pose the biggest hardships. Securing a building could cost about $3 million, Knabe said.
"The No. 1 challenge will always be money," Knabe said. "To acquire a building that size in today's real estate market is a huge undertaking."
The association said they need more room to display all the items. More than 40 pieces of equipment in various stages of restoration and a firefighter gear collection that includes more than 200 antique helmets are housed in two warehouses.
One of the warehouses, a 16,000-square-foot facility in South Gate, is crammed with artifacts from former city fire stations, including a 1925 Engine 23 Stutz from Bellflower.
The association also boasts an 1853 button hand pumper, a 1915 Model T Chemical/hose car and the 1965 Crown Engine 51, Engine 60 from the former television show "Emergency."
The group also wants to make the exhibits more accessible. The South Gate facility is only open to the public twice a year during the association's open house events.
Woyjeck said the museum is more than just a bunch of old fire engines.
"We have a lot of archives," he said. "We have 10,000 pictures in our files that are in various stages of decay. We've been scanning them to CDs to save the history of our department."
The organization hopes to glean sponsorships from businesses and community members and foster memberships to help offset costs. They also hope to build the museum in the Southeast Los Angeles area.
"This is where it all started," Woyjeck said.