The Historical Society of Palm Beach County is dedicated to sharing the county’s history and landscape with residents and visitors alike. One way it accomplishes this mission is through an annual, season-long history exhibit that occupies the rotating gallery space at the historic 1916 courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach. This year, “Courage Under Fire: 120 Years of Fire Rescue” illustrates the story of the West Palm Beach Fire Department.
The show is geared towards children in fourth grade and coordinates with public-school curriculum. However, its intriguing design and thorough exploration make it informative for adults as well. “There are different levels of layers and appreciation,” explains Curator of Collections Benjamen Salata. “We had two goals with this exhibit: To detail 120 years of history in a very small space and to demonstrate the need for firefighters today.”
Walking through the small exhibition room, one gets an idea of what past firefighters faced in the fight to keep Palm Beach County safe. Originally known as the Flagler Alerts, the West Palm Beach Fire Department fought fires throughout the county—not just in the city of West Palm Beach—and also worked to ready local businesses and residents for the threat of fire. Images from the Historical Society’s archives and from the fire department depict firefighters of yesteryear, as well as vintage equipment and garb. One wall covers six important fires, including two at The Breakers in 1903 and 1925. The centerpiece of the room is an antique firefighter pull cart (pictured below) from the turn of the twentieth century. “We wanted to find an apparatus that would fit in the room,” Salata says.
This historical coverage is augmented by modern information about how firefighters of today train and ultimately earn the right to protect county citizens. “If someone was a brand new firefighter, this is what they would need to know,” Salata says. Visitors are greeted with “Welcome Rookie” and shown gear, uniforms and tools currently in use by the fire department. In addition, iPads are available to further investigate the trials and tribulations of today’s firefighters. “This is the first foray into bringing technology into the museum,” says Sarah Morris, the society’s director of advancement and communications.
The exhibition is on display through June 27, but on October 11, the Historical Society will host a Fire Safety Day to further bring the show’s message to life. Attendees will meet firefighters and experience hands-on demonstrations.
Later in the month on October 25, the society hosts its fifth annual Scarecrow Festival, which celebrates all things fall with arts and crafts, a hayride and a scarecrow contest. To learn more about the Scarecrow Festival, “Courage Under Fire” or other society events and exhibitions, visit historicalsocietypbc.org.