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A Burning Passion for Firefighting History
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 11:00 AM
Frank Taff talks about his collection of firefighter memorabilia during a tour in the old Walnut Street Fire Hall on Monday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Frank Taff describes how one of the first fire extinguisher, fire sprinkler systems worked. Taff has several of the first-generation devices. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Firefighting has been a part of Frank Taff's life as long as he can remember. His father was a firefighter. He's been a firefighter for almost 40 years.
And now, he's starting a museum in the former Walnut Street Fire Company building to celebrate his love of all things firefighting.
For the past 10 years, Taff has been collecting firefighter memorabilia. As his collection grew, his basement became crowded, and he needed a new location for his collection. In March, he found the answer when the former firehouse, 808 Walnut St., was put up for sale.
Taff, a member of Walnut Street Fire Company, has been studying the history of the company for the past 15 years. He joined the fire company in the mid-1970s, so he never had a chance to work in the former building, which was used up until 1962.
One wall in the firehouse displays any memorabilia he can find.
"This is depicting firefighters from the mid-1800s, and I plan on having to the mid-1930s, when the mechanized period started taking over," he said.
The opposite wall is devoted to the history of local fire companies. So far, he has four of the companies represented.
He has a wide collection of tools firefighters used, including a wagon, fire buckets, ladders, pull hooks, axes, pictures, fire helmets, fire bells and jackets to name a few.
The collection is still a work in progress, but Taff hopes to only display original items in the museum.
"I don't have any desire to show the plastics of today," he said.
He finds a majority of the items at antique stores, auctions or on eBay. He's had some trouble finding the things he wants.
"Because I got a late start, it's a little more difficult to find things," he said.
Next month he's heading to a firefighter auction in Ann Arbor, Mich., that is expected to have more than 60 years' worth of memorabilia. He hopes to find some good items to bring back with him.
Though he's officially calling it a museum, he doesn't plan to have any set hours or charge people money to get in.
"We had absolutely no intention of turning this into a profit center," he said.
He has a wealth of knowledge about what everything in his museum was used for and a great knowledge of the history of firefighting. He plans on bringing back some of the former design of the original building.
The building had a cupola and a bell on the roof until 1932 when it was taken down. That is one of the projects Taff hopes to work on in the near future.
"We hope to at some point put the cupola back," he said. "Whatever it'll be, it's going to be low-maintenance."
There are also plans to put up finials that were on the corners of the building.
Anyone with local items, memorabilia or photos they would like to contribute to Taff and his firefighting museum may contact him at (812) 265-3762.
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