It started with a truck.
A Class B fire engine.
It was the fire engine that volunteer firefighters in Hillsborough County rode on, during the 1970s and 1980s.
In 2017, four dedicated individuals bought it, looking to restore it.
They did, and because of that, the Hillsborough Fire & EMS Museum was born — not out of fire and ash, but out of a respect for preservation and history.
“After they bought the truck, well, they said, ‘Let’s make a museum,’” said Beth Nevel, museum president.
Then, the donations started coming in.
“People would call, and tell us, ‘I’ve got patches’ or ‘I’ve got a first aid box full of stuff’ or ‘I’ve got a helmet and a coat,’ and as our firefighters are dying, their husbands and wives are saying, ‘What do I do with all this stuff from their careers as a firefighter?’,” Nevel added.
Indeed, all the items displayed at the small nonprofit museum at 15961 N. Florida Ave., in Lutz, have been donated by friends or family of, or even current or retired, firefighters.
The donations have been pouring in for about five years, Nevel said. It’s to the point where the museum’s board had to get storage space.
Nevel estimated the museum has thousands of items, from helmets to masks to used tanks to axes and other tools to patches to even toys and memorabilia. However, because of its limited rented space, it can only display some of the collection.
The items on display are impressive, but Nevel would love to see the museum expand into a larger space.
“We are bursting at the seams here,” Nevel said. “We started a savings account to get a bigger space and that’s the dream, for now.”
And, like many museums, especially small ones, this one also relies on contributions from “Friends of the Museum.”
Nevel encourages visitors to come take a look.
“Just come by and say hi!” she said. “You just have to contribute — we don’t care. Send us 10 bucks, give us 100 bucks, donate 1,000 bucks (laughs). People are our biggest contributors.”
With an all-volunteer staff and board of about 10 people, the museum relies on contributions — such as receiving $10,000 from Seminole Hard Rock or money from the Lutz Guv’na — but also through its three fundraisers: a car show, a golf tournament and a clay shoot.
Those monies go to keeping the lights on at the actual museum, but also to its three-pronged mission.
Education. Preservation. Restoration.
The museum aims to educate not only visitors, but also seniors and children through virtual classes that teach fire safety and more.
It wants to preserve all the artifacts that are donated, that way they are kept in pristine condition to be shared with whomever may visit the museum.
And, finally, to restore the truck — fix up and bring back to impeccable life the fire engine that’s on a Ford truck chassis, but was transformed into a fire engine by the late Chief Mechanic Ross Macaluso.
“We do get a lot of people — we get everyone who wants to stop by and see some history,” Nevel said. “Just a few weeks ago, we had a retired battalion chief from New Jersey that was down here and just saw us (online) and asked if he could come by. It is a lot of former and retired firefighters, which is great, because they’re interested and have stories, and are more than welcome to come by here and visit or hang out.”
Hillsborough Fire & EMS Museum
Where: 15961 N. Florida Ave., Lutz
When: Tuesdays, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Details: Founded in 2017, this nonprofit organization and museum restores and preserves the history of the fire department and EMS in unincorporated Hillsborough County. The small museum relies on donations not just of monetary value, but also of any and all artifacts and souvenirs from current and former firefighters, as well as their families.
Info: Visit HillsboroughFireMuseum.org, or to schedule a visit, call 813-269-3459 or email .
Published October 19, 2022