Fire Museum opens Saturday

April 28, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The Fire Museum of Greater Chicago, 5218 South Western Avenue, will open to the public for the first time on Saturday.

Volunteers spent 15 years bringing the museum to life in the old fire station, which was built 94 years ago.

"We're going to open up the first floor of this Fire Museum of Greater Chicago to the public and let them see what we've done so far," said Bill Kugelman, pres. Fire Museum Greater Chicago.

The exhibits capture the sounds, sights and memories of more than 150 years of Chicago Fire Department history. It includes a scale model of the Our Lady of Angels School, where many died in 1958. Right now there's just one old fire truck, but more are planned.

"When I was ten years old I started hanging around the firehouse on South Shore," said Andy O'Donnell, retired CFD after 34 years. And he was hooked after a ride on a fire engine. "One like this… Actually older than this one and that was the thrill of my life and it set my goals to want to be a fireman."

Almost all of the volunteers are retired Chicago firefighters who are on call now to collect every bit of Chicago fire memorabilia.

There are no fire poles, but they will be re-installed soon. The fire pole was invented in Chicago in 1878. But that's just the start of history at the Chicago Fire Museum, which includes a 12-foot statue of Christopher Columbus from the Columbian Exposition, where several firemen were killed, and the giant painting that survived a 5-alarm fire in Chicago's City Council in 1957. And, now there's a badge worn by Chief Robert O'Brien, who died in a 1962 fire. His son gave it to the museum Wednesday.

"The badge was given to me by then commissioner Bob Quinn after my dad's death," said Robert O'Brien, son of Chief Robert O'Brien. "Now it's part of the museum."

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