The Herald Bulletin

May 8, 2013

Historical society features firefighter exhibit

Anderson Fire Department veteran shares memorabilia collection with public

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Every day, Anderson fire station No. 5 was a destination for 10-year-old Jerry Burmeister. That’s where he picked up the newspapers and later delivered them to customers on his route.

Those shiny red trucks and the sirens inside the station made an impression.

“It was just in my blood. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a firefighter,” said Burmeister. His great-great-uncle, James Kailor, happened to be the fire chief in Columbus, Ind., further impressing the young Burmeister. “As a kid growing up, I kind of idolized him.”

Burmeister grew up to become a firefighter. He has been with the Anderson Fire Department for 31 years. His love of the field hasn’t waned, and he now happily shares his extensive collection of firefighting memorabilia and artifacts at the Madison County Historical Society, 15 W. 11th St., Anderson. The exhibit runs through May 24.

“It’s an interesting exhibit,” said museum volunteer Bill Knapp. Fellow volunteer Harry Kirchenbauer noted this is the first time the fire service has been featured there.

From old hydrants, to nozzles, buckets for sand, alarm boxes, toy fire trucks, protective gear and more, interspersed with plenty of engaging photographs, the Anderson Firefighter exhibition offers a look back at the occupation, the equipment, and the people who fight fire in our community. The collection gives one pause to reflect on today’s rapid, technology-enhanced response compared to what went before.

“It went from the bucket brigade to million-dollar aerial trucks,” said Burmeister. “The bottom line is it’s still dangerous.”

One display case holds one of those leather buckets that would have been passed hand to hand in an attempt to douse a fire. Nearby is the speaking trumpet through which orders would have been shouted at the scene.

Burmeister points out a cellar nozzle that was pushed through a hole in the floor to a basement. The force of the water through the nozzle caused it to spin, spraying 360 degrees around the room without benefit of a human hand.

The collection holds pieces of Howe memorabilia, a company that manufactured fire trucks in Anderson.

Burmeister points out a number of helmets, still bearing the marks of smoke and wear as they sit in the display.

“It’s kind of a pride thing — you keep your helmet. It protected you.” He recalls the day the old Anderson High School burned.

“I was the first truck at the scene that day, Engine 2,” said Burmeister. He remembers just seeing a little smoke as he approached, cutting the lock off the door, and walking down the hall seeing nothing unusual. Then, he looked up the stairs.

“It was a solid ball of fire,” said Burmeister. “That ended up being a long day and a long night.” The heat was so intense, the back of his ears were burnt.

Burmeister said that firefighters used to battle blazes without air packs, calling the firefighters “smoke eaters.”

“Those old-timers, I can’t say enough about them.”

One of those old-timers in the exhibit happens to be the great-great-uncle who first inspired Burmeister. There’s a photo of fire chief Kailor, who put the first diesel-powered fire truck in the United States into service in 1939.

Exhibition hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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