“Dedicated to,” according to its mission statement, “collecting, conserving, and sharing the heritage of African-American firefighters through collaboration and education,” the African-American Firefighter Museum is the sole free-standing African-American firefighter museum in the U.S. With its collection of historic firefighting equipment, photos, and a large variety of other firefighting memorabilia and artifacts, the museum tells the tale of African-American firefighters who have been serving in Los Angeles for well over 100 years.
The museum is housed in a two-story fire station, FS #30, located across the street from the historic Coca-Cola building on South Central Avenue. From 1924 to 1955, the historic FS #30 was one of two segregated hire houses in the city of angels. One of the museum’s most beloved volunteers, Arnett Hartsfield, was a city firefighter in the 1940s and 50s and helped current firefighters and visitors to the museum understand the battle that he, a USC law school graduate, and his colleagues fought as they worked to integrate the Los Angeles Fire Department. Hartsfield volunteered at the museum up until his death in 2014.
The first floor of the African-American FIrefighter Museum houses the firefighting gear on display along with photos and stories of some of the city’s first African-American firefighters. The second floor houses a gallery that is loaded with historic photos, memorabilia, and artifacts. The museum is also home to a tribute to the firefighters who were killed during the 9/11 attack by Islamic fundamentalists on New York City’s two World Trade Center buildings.
Wholly supported and funded by volunteers, this non-profit organization is not only open to the public, it also supports a Junior Firefighter Youth Foundation that introduces the fire service community to middle and high school students in Los Angeles. Additionally, this program helps students understand local government and community service. Finally, the youth foundation also supports sending students to the Los Angeles Metro High School Academy.
When the museum opened in 1997, its founders believed that it marked the 100th anniversary of the first African-American firefighter working in the city. However, five years later, the Los Angeles Times discovered a document showing that at least one African-American firefighter, Sam Haskins, was hired by the city in 1892. Haskins was killed three years later while responding to a fire.