History of the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum
On April 6, 1967 a groundbreaking ceremony was held at 2716 N.E. 50th St., in Oklahoma City, where the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum is still located today. The building was completed in 1969 and houses the Museum and the offices of the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association (OSFA), Oklahoma Fire Chiefs Association (OCFA) and the Oklahoma Retired Firefighters Association (ORFA).
The Museum contains a remarkable collection of antique fire apparatus and equipment dating back to the mid-1700s, including the first fire station built in, what was then, Oklahoma Territory in 1869. Other exhibits include the world's largest fire department patch collection and a one-of-a-kind mural, The Last Alarm. The Museum is the new home to several artifacts from the Ben Franklin Collection, a group of items representing the birth of the oldest fire department in the United States.
The Museum is one of the most outstanding facilities in the nation devoted to the preservation and display of antique fire fighting equipment and apparatus. Owned and operated by the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, it is financed by membership dues.
John Knupple was the first curator of the Firefighters Museum, serving from June 1, 1970 to Dec. 31, 1971.
In January 1972, the mantle moved to Sam Oruch (pictured at right), who at that time was an active firefighter for the Oklahoma City Fire Department. While on duty, Sam's District Chief would pick him up and drive him to the Museum where he would give visitors a tour. Sam retired from OCFD in 1978 and became the full-time Museum caretaker. He gave Museum tours for more than 33 years and is the last person to have held the title of Curator.
In 2004, Jim Sanders became the Museum Director. Jim retired from the Bethany Fire Department. Jim worked to build and improve the museum's collection and outreach.
Currently, retired Nichols Hills firefighter Mike "Rookie" Billingsley and his staff are working to continue to update and improve the Firefighter's Museum - and Billingsley still gives tours in the tradition Sam Oruch began.
Museum Celebrates 40 Years
By Mike "Rookie" Billingsley, Museum Manager
NOTE: Rookie wrote this article in 2007 to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum
Forty years ago this year (2007), we opened the doors to the Museum.
Byron Hollander, OCFD, Stanley Hawkins, Tulsa, Don Froese, Enid, Bassill Tunnell, The Village, Jimmy Martin, Lawton, Clint Taylor, Tulsa, John Nidiffer, Miami, Wm. G. Maddux, Stillwater, Nathan Stufflebean, Pauls Valley, Ben Dancey, OCFD, Jack Sanders, Tulsa and Andy Miller, OCFD were all board members or past presidents of the OSFA board that made the museum happen.
As Executive Directors, Andy Miller, Bill Liebegott, Louis Bunch, Bob Hollander, Jim Minx, David and Chris Bain have all given their leadership through the guidance and direction of the OSFA board members over the past forty years.
Sam Oruch, John Knupple, John Esposito, Jim Sanders, Eldon Forrester, Mike Billingsley, Tippy Pierce, Jimmy Edwards and Mike Brown have all given tours over the last 40 years.
Each one has made their mark on the history of the museum. The legacy they have started and handed down is the same effort we are trying to pass on to future generations.
Comments from all over the world have been the best compliments we could receive.
“I have traveled all over the world and seen many fire museums and this is by far the best I’ve ever seen,” says David Allero of the London Fire Brigade. That is just one of many similar compliments from the visitors who come here.
Changes made over the years are shouting, “Come and See” what’s going on! We have tried to keep everyone informed about the new things happening here, but some of the “big” changes are worth talking about again.
Six years ago, the staff and volunteers worked long hours to “remodel” inside the museum. Ione and Elaine hanging wall paper, painting the stage area where Sam and Don (the horses) are and the rest of the interior walls along with Denita Bennett putting up signs like “SAM’S Blacksmithing” and “DAVE’S Café” made the museum look completely different. Taking out the entry room and moving the gift shop, “opened” the front room and made it inviting to our visitors.
The Audio Tour makes it possible to hear more than one person talk about the museum. And with the music and background sound effects, it has brought the museum to life. Visitors seem mesmerized while they listen about the history of the Oklahoma State Fire Service.
Part of our new educational theme is having fire safety messages inside and outside the museum. Outside the museum is the “Junior Firefighter Activity Center,” which has been a BIG draw to the museum. You can see it from I-35, when children see it they immediately tell the adults they want to stop. They really enjoy playing on it and learning the fire safety messages that are all over it.
Flat screen TV’s in the museum continually play Fire Safety DVD’s. The new display stands each have a different fire safety message to share.
We are in the process of designing a “children’s area” with computers full of educational software for children. The idea is to teach them our history and their safety, because we are PROUD and we CARE.
FORTY YEARS… That’s a long time…
Congratulations to the Oklahoma State Firefighters Museum and to all Oklahoma Firefighters.
Come see me, be safe and have fun…
Mike “Rookie” Billingsley (pictured at right)
(405) 424-3440 Museum
(405) 203-6090 Cell