KEARNEY — Firefighters often form deep and lasting bonds — both with their fellow firefighters and the equipment.
“You form bonds with everybody in the station,” said Matt Fitzgerald, director of the Nebraska Firefighters Museum & Education Center. “When you see them on a regular basis and you’re going through some of the most difficult times in somebody’s life, you tend to rely on those people. When you get done with the call and you’re back at the hall, a lot of guys hang out together.”
Fitzgerald finds that firefighters often spend time together to go fishing together or attend barbecues.
“Or they go on family picnics,” he said. “It’s just like a second family.”
The Nebraska Firefighters Museum & Education Center continues to honor the men and women who serve Nebraska’s communities with fire protection. To celebrate the founding of the museum, the volunteers will host a 10-year anniversary with a flea market, Fire Truck Show & Shine, bounce house, live entertainment and games for children at the center at 2425 E. First St.
The event, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, is free.
“And the month of August is also Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to have games for kids; things like a cake walk, a dunk tank and different outdoor games.”
One of those games, a bucket brigade, offers a fun activity as well as a glimpse into the past.
“The bucket brigade is our way of representing the past,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a fun thing for the kids to do. Basically it’s two tubs of water, filled up. They race to fill up two other buckets at the end of the line.”
One of the goals of the museum is to help patrons better understand the science of fighting fires.
To that end, Fitzgerald expects volunteers to bring examples of equipment to the anniversary for a show and shine event.
“Yes, it’s a historical, fun game,” he said of the brigade. “It shows what they used to have to do in finding a water source and getting the water to the fire as quickly as possible. Instead of running around with a single bucket in their hands, they would line up in big lines and hand it off along the way. The kids will get to experience that.”
Fellow firefighters began discussing the foundation of a museum after the death of a member more than 30 years ago. In 2008 the city of Kearney approached the Nebraska Firefighters Foundation to establish a permanent location for a museum near The Archway. A year later, with the building complete, the museum opened with a hose-cutting ceremony on Aug. 15, 2009.
“We’ve been around for 10 years,” Fitzgerald said. “The idea behind having a big celebration is to celebrate the museum being here that long. On a daily basis, the museum’s purpose is to recognize Nebraska’s firefighters and EMS personnel — and to recognize the traditions of Nebraska’s firefighters.”
Education about fire safety is also a big part of the institution’s mission.
Displaying antique firefighting vehicles gives the public an understanding and appreciation of how much the technology has evolved.
“It seems that almost every fire department has at least one piece of apparatus that’s an antique of some sort,” Fitzgerald said. “And a lot of people are collectors. There’s not a whole lot of difference between what these guys collect and what car collectors keep. They have specific things they like and they go out and look for them.”
The collectors often find used pieces of equipment and restore them for display purposes.
“I’m on the Lexington Fire Department and we have a 1948 American LaFrance,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of that stuff we use for parades and Santa Claus rides and things like that. A lot of other fire departments are the same way. They have at least one they keep around for parades that show the history of their local fire department.”