On Broadway, just south of Lincoln, is another Wichita landmark that is hidden in plain sight: the Kansas Firefighters Museum.
The museum is small in size but uses the space wisely. The walls, ceilings — every square inch, it seems — is full of memorabilia.
There are photos, plaques, logbooks and, best of all, old fire equipment. The museum has the station’s original horse-drawn wagon; a chemical truck that was pulled and pushed by four men; and a 1921 American Lafrance fire engine.
David Wilson — “DD” to his friends — is a retired firefighter and recording secretary for the museum. He's passionate about the vocation and its history.
“I’ve been researching Wichita firefighters, and [now] the state,” Wilson said.
The museum was once Wichita's Fire Station No. 6; it was built in 1909.
“At the time, seven firefighters were here and those seven firefighters worked seven days a week," Wilson said.
There’s a photo of the original firefighters and of the horses — Bill and Jerry — who pulled the first wagon.
The horses were stabled in the firehouse on either side of the wagon. An interesting fact: Old fire stations had circular staircases or staircases that turned left or right part way up, designed with horses in mind.
“Because the horses would come upstairs,” Wilson said. “Horses don’t like to turn [a] corner.”
The second floor is divided into two rooms: a dayroom that would have had a large table and chairs and a kitchen of sorts. The other side is where the men would have slept.
“This is what we call the bunkroom,” Wilson said. “[I] don’t know how they had it arranged, but they had seven beds on this side.”
There’s just one now, with boots next to it with the fireman’s pants tucked in.
The room is filled with more history. Bright red buckets, pointy on the bottom instead of flat, to keep them from being stolen. A bucket that won’t stand up isn’t of much use to most people.
There are augers, used to drill into water lines; fire trucks didn’t carry their own water and there were few hydrants in place.
The fire pole also is in the bunkroom, carefully cordoned off, the opening blocked by plexiglass so people don’t try to slide down.
“Most kids know better,” Wilson said. “It’s the adults I worry about more than anything, especially if you let them up here by themselves. You’ll find somebody just standing on the plexiglass ready to go down.”
South of the building is a memorial listing the names of more than 100 Kansas firefighters who have died in the line of duty. The earliest is from 1887.
The memorial plaza also has a bronze sculpture dedicated to fallen firefighters titled “Final Call.”
Wilson and other volunteers are responsible for everything in the museum, from restoring the engines to teaching classes to acting as tour guides.
“We’re here to help, and we’re here to tell,” Wilson said. “Everyone has a story to tell, and we hope people come down to listen to the stories.”
The Kansas Firefighters Museum is currently closed due to the pandemic but plans to open in late spring to host Honor365’s traveling Sept. 11 exhibit.
For more information or to book a tour, you can visit the museum’s website or call 316-264-5990.