Fire Museum of Memphis Adding Exhibits

By ANDY MEEK | September 10, 2013

Thanks to a few big grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Plough Foundation, the Fire Museum of Memphis is pressing ahead with a slew of upgrades to its educational programs and exhibits focused on fire prevention and life safety.

The money includes one grant from FEMA for $197,245 and another for $481,740. A third grant, from the Plough Foundation, was for $250,000.

The Tennessee museum has been spending the year – its 15th anniversary, as it happens – making preparations to use that money to update exhibits such as the Fire Safety House and FedEx Fire Room.

It also is installing several new exhibits and beefing up its fire safety and prevention education curriculum, used to instruct museum visitors and by firefighters who visit schools in the area.

Fire Museum general manager Penny Smith has big ambitions for how the money will not only be put to use, but how it might put the museum on the map.

“Most fire museums are for firefighters, and they have a lot of old fire equipment,” Smith said. “The Memphis Fire Department had a vision back in the ’90s when they created this thing – they wanted it to be more than just that. We had a fire fatality rate that was two-and-a-half times the national average. It was pretty bad. So they thought if they could use this museum to teach people, that it might have an impact on the fire fatality rate.

“However, they didn’t have enough funding when they built the museum to complete their vision, which was that this would be a place of education. And they wanted to be able to track their efforts at fire prevention.”

Smith said the museum applied for the $481,740 FEMA grant and won it based on the idea that the museum would develop software to put in a game arcade room. It’s so that as after-school groups make their way through the museum, they will enter the game room and play on the equipment, which is actually tracking what students learn.

The museum would supply that data to the fire department.

“FEMA was quite impressed with our proposal, and hopefully we can share this with departments across the country,” Smith said. “We anticipate it’s really going to make us stand out as a premier fire museum.”

To that end, the museum’s new $135,000 fire safety arcade includes touch-screen monitors that provide a gaming experience, track student interaction and collect data that can be used to help shape fire safety education.

Among the variety of other improvements in the museum’s plan, the museum is hiring a fire safety education adviser. That person will develop new curriculum for educators in the museum and will create and manage a training program and guide for firefighters who visit local schools.

The museum also is updating its school outreach program. That includes acquiring 30 trunks with artifacts and educational materials, and the museum also is buying more than 50,000 fire helmets, plastic badges and trading cards to provide to students on the day of their visits.

The museum’s website,, also is getting an update to include the latest information on exhibits, fire prevention and life safety educational programs.

The museum estimates all the myriad changes will be finished by June.

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