Biloxi to dedicate Firefighters Museum

The public will have a chance to learn about the close ties many Biloxi families have to the Biloxi Fire Department and get a glimpse of life in a fire station of yesteryear with the opening of the Firefighters Museum Saturday at 2 p.m. in Biloxi.

The museum is a showcase of photographs and firefighting equipment all set in a refurbished fire station built in 1937, the West End Fire Co. No. 3, on Howard Avenue a block east of Porter Avenue.

Saturday’s opening reception is scheduled to take place through 5 p.m. and will feature free tours, live entertainment, and refreshments provided by Beau Rivage, which has become a corporate sponsor of the museum.

“This museum is all about pride and history,” said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. “It’s about the pride that the firefighters and citizens have in their department, it’s also a throwback to the days when the local fire stations were miniature community centers where the neighborhood often gathered.”

Among the items visitors will see at the museum are a 1924 American LaFrance fire truck, an 1800s-era horse-drawn steam pumper, a hand-pulled hose cart, and dozens of photographs showing old Biloxi fire stations, engine companies, fireman’s parades, and fire trucks.

“I don’t think any one thing will stand out, it’s the collection itself and the station itself,” said organizer Joe Boney, a battalion chief in the fire department who has worked with a handful of other firefighters who volunteered time to help make the museum a reality.

“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “What the museum can provide to the community is that we have quite a bit of history in this department that is connected to many Biloxi families. People don’t realize just how closely tied the old Biloxi families are to this department.”

The museum will also help promote the department’s fire prevention efforts, Boney said. “This museum will help get the children interested, but it will also be interesting to seniors and adults. I think there’s something here for everybody. It doesn’t have the grand chandeliers or anything, but it’s a pretty good presentation of how life was back then, what the fire stations looked like back then.”

Initially, the museum will be open on Saturdays and by appointment, since staffing will be by volunteers.

In fact, most of the work in refurbishing the former station and collecting memorabilia was done by a group of off-duty firefighters, led by Boney, an 18-year veteran of the department.

“A few years ago, I was helping one of the chiefs clean up and he was throwing a bunch of stuff away, and I asked him if I could have a few of the photographs,” Boney said. “That’s what started this. Then Larry Smith, a firefighter who is a history buff, came along and he was working on writing a history of the fire department. Things grew from there.”

The Howard Avenue fire station, which is about a block north of the Lopez-Quave Public Safety Center, is “one of the last original fire stations left in the city,” Boney said, “and we wanted to preserve it. The city was gracious enough to let us do this. We’ve actually researched and found that there was actually a volunteer group, the West End Hose Co., in this station and now here we are about 100 years later, and we’ve decided that our group of volunteers working on this museum will use that same name.”

Boney said the museum is still interested in any memorabilia residents may want to display in the museum.

The museum’s phone number is 435-6119.