Decades of Rock Hill firefighting on display at new museum

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 3, 2013 

The safety net that Rock Hill Fire Chief Mike Blackmon used during his firefighter training in 1977 is hanging on the wall of the city's new downtown museum dedicated to preserving firefighters' history.

Before the 1980s, Rock Hill used the safety nets as a training device to help firefighters overcome their fear of heights. The life safety nets were also used to rescue people jumping from burning buildings.

Leaping from a building onto the net often did more harm than good, Blackmon said, so departments stopped using the nets. Now, the net is on display with other fire and emergency personnel memorabilia inside a museum in the works at the fire department's administrative headquarters on Elizabeth Lane.

Rock Hill's firefighters have built and designed almost everything inside the museum.

"They've taken a lot of ownership of this, a lot of pride was put into this," Blackmon said. "They're really excited about it, too."

The museum isn't open to the public yet and firefighters have more work to do inside, he said.

So far, all the money spent on the fire history museum has come from fundraisers and private donations. Blackmon has been leading the museum effort for the past seven or eight years, he said, with his team raking in close to $10,000 for the city project.

Most of the museum's attractions are aimed toward children, he said, but the space is "not a playground." Inside, kids will be able to slide down a fire pole that Rock Hill's department formerly used. The department also has child-size firefighter jackets, hats and gloves for kids to try on.

Historical information on each piece in the museum will help visitors learn about Rock Hill's rich firefighter tradition, he said.

The museum houses a 1924 fire engine that's been restored and hand painted by Rock Hill Fire Capt. Pat Amos. A placard on the engine explains the vehicle's history including the death of Frank Hamilton, who had a heart attack while driving the truck to a Rock Hill fire in 1936.

One of the museum's oldest pieces is a 19th century bell that was used in Rock Hill as a fire alarm more than 100 years ago. Rock Hill's firefighters also have built a display case for memorabilia honoring emergency workers who lost their lives in Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Before the museum can open, Blackmon said, a few major projects inside must be completed, including renovating the building's bathroom and installing heating and air conditioning. The fire department started a non-profit organization to accept donations for the museum.

Firefighters could use help, he said, from anybody interested in donating money or services to finish the museum. For more information call 329-7220.

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