Day after day, firefighters representing hundreds of fire departments big and small help save lives across the state of Utah.
What most people see are shiny fire trucks barreling down the road, sirens blaring on their way to save someone’s property — someone’s livelihood.
But what they often don’t see are the men putting out those fires, the conditions they must endure or the equipment they use to do their job to the best of their ability.
That is the purpose of the Utah Museum of Fire Service History and Firefighter Memorial, located just off SR-112 at the Deseret Peak Complex between Tooele and Grantsville.
“The Utah State Fireman’s Association had a museum committee,” said museum curator Dave Hammond, a 50-year veteran of the Grantsville Volunteer Fire Department. “I’ve been involved with it since 1999 when it really started to take place out here at the complex.”
Construction began on the museum in November 1999, and the museum was dedicated Oct. 7, 2000.
The museum’s collection spans approximately 125 years of Beehive State firefighting history in more than 30,000 square feet of space. There are photos of the women’s auxiliary of the Utah State Firemen’s Association from the mid-1950s, as well as of firefighting efforts from the present day from across the state.
There also is a display of photos and items recovered from the 1984 Grantsville High School fire, including the remnants of Grantsville’s state championship basketball trophies from the late 1940s.
The museum’s impressive collection also includes various equipment used by firefighters throughout the years, showing the advances made in firefighting technology. Everything from old leather hoses, harnesses for mine rescues and soot-covered helmets that have been used in fighting fires is on display.
“We didn’t wipe the black off of them,” Hammond said.
There is also evidence of how firefighting has become safer, as evidenced by the carcinogenic hand grenades firefighters of yesteryear once used.
“They were full of carbon tetrachloride,” Hammond said. “Carbon tet is a carcinogen. What they would do is they would throw it in a fire, the bottles would melt and break and the carbon tet kills the oxygen. I say it was the precursor to sprinkler systems until they found out it was a carcinogen.”
Even a primitive breathing apparatus that required one person to use a hand crank to supply air to a fellow firefighter wearing a mask as he descended into a mine shaft is on display at the museum alongside modern air tanks and fire extinguishers. Tooele City’s original hand pumper from 1897, which still works, can be seen at the museum, as can several hand-operated hose wagons.
There is also an emotional element to the museum. There is a bracelet display showing the names of all the firefighters who died as a result of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as a list of all the Utah firefighters who traveled to New York to assist at the World Trade Center. Outside, there is a wall listing the names of all the Utah firefighters who have died either in the line of duty or in other fire-related incidents, including five from Tooele County.
“There are 40-some-odd names out there,” Hammond said. “The Dow James Building is named for two firefighters who were killed between Tooele and Stockton.”
By far the most noticeable element of the museum’s collection is the fleet of fire trucks dating back to 1927 and either donated or loaned to the museum from various agencies statewide. Many of the trucks began their lives fighting fires in Salt Lake City, but were eventually handed down to smaller departments throughout the state as the Salt Lake City Fire Department upgraded its own equipment.
The trucks find their way in and out of the collection on occasion, as they are often used for parades or funeral processions.
“Ninety percent of the trucks that are here are loaned to us,” Hammond said. “The owners can come take them when they want — for parades, to take them home and sell them … Sometimes, old firefighters like to take their ‘last ride’ in a fire truck.”
The museum, located at 2930 W. State Route 112, is open Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Individuals and groups interested in visiting the facility on other days can make arrangements by calling Hammond at (435) 830-6556.