DOWNTOWN The history of Santa Monica’s Fire Department (SMFD) is now on display at the Santa Monica History Museum as part of the museum’s new Warrior’s of Fire exhibit.
The exhibit opens on June 28 and will also help raise money to restore SMFD’s antique fire engine. The 1952 truck will be on display at the exhibit and the museum will donate $1 from admission proceeds to help restore the vehicle.
In the official announcement of the exhibit, museum officials said “The exhibit focuses on three areas of the Santa Monica Fire Department’s history: equipment, people, and fires. Presented are over 50 artifacts and photos from the Santa Monica History Museum and Santa Monica Fire Department’s collections. The historical retrospective features all four helmets used by the fire department: an 1889 fire helmet, a Valentini model, an authentic Eastman helmet and the present day. Also featured are original fire log books dating back to 1902, Johnny Ross’s Medal of Valor and turnout uniform, legendary Fire Chief Mohr’s badges, a gavel and a nozzle used by the fire department.”
The modern department traces its roots to a volunteer group that began in 1875 as the Crawford Hook and Ladder Company. In 1889 the City created its first formal firefighting agency with the Santa Monica Hose and Ladder Company. The exhibit has photos and artifacts from several significant fires.
SMFD Chief Scott Ferguson, whose is part of a three-generation firefighting family, said the show was a powerful reminder of the growth and evolution of the department from an all-volunteer group to the professional department it is today.
“It gives me chills to walk into that back room and see not just those things that my father had, but ultimately to see how the fire service has progressed because that’s the start in 1875, he said. “I appreciated councilman McKeown talking about six people getting together with a couple of axes and a bucket, we’ve come a long way because that was a heck of a way to fight a fire.”
Ferguson praised the work of the front line firefighters and said the department is proud of its progressive history including early adoption of paramedics on fire trucks.
“The Santa Monica Fire Department is one of the premiere and most progressive fire departments in the United States,” said Exhibit Curator Danielle Lewis in a statement. “They were the first fire department in the nation to deliver paramedic services in 1974.”
Retired Battalion Chief Walt Shirk said the department’s success is a shared achievement.
“Part of the reason Santa Monica is on the map is because of the support of the citizens and some future seeing administration that we had,”
SMHM hosted an opening reception for the exhibit on June 26 and Board Member Kris Andresen told the crowd the new feature highlights the special role SMFD has played in the city.
“Over the past 125 years, it has evolved into this very special fire department,” she said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown read a proclamation honoring SMFD’s history.
“(The City of Santa Monica) commend and congratulate the Santa Monica Fire Department for their dedication to preventing the loss of life property and environment from fire, medical and other natural and man made disasters through aggressive prevention, training, public education and emergency response,” he said before deviating from his script to add “And courage, the courage part is important.”
The museum is open Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. It is closed on Sunday and Monday. To learn more visit

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