Exhibits Overview

The Exhibits & Collections

Through its offerings, the museum honors past Cincinnati firefighting efforts, celebrates today’s firefighting advancements, and champions fire safety. Cincinnati has also been known for its prominent role in the technological and organizational development of the American Fire Department.

The building that now houses the Cincinnati Fire Museum was once home to the Engine Company #45 Fire House (in 1906). The Cincinnati Fire Museum is in the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural design and the city’s primary architect, Harry Hake. When the Engine Company #45 was decommissioned in 1962 it became a city storehouse, and in 1980 was given new life as the Cincinnati Fire Museum. The museum’s collections can be summarized as follows:

The Volunteer Era Collection (1808-1852)

“The Artifacts Collection” includes unique items that help outline the evolution of firefighting in Cincinnati and across the country. The collection includes the Thomas Tucker Leather Fire Bucket (dates back to 1850), the Fire-Alarm Drum (dates back to 1808 to 1824), and the Hunneman Hand Pump, the oldest fire engine (1816).

The Steam Engine Era Collection (1853-1912)

The city is the home of the first paid professional fire department in the nation (in 1853) and became a model for other fire departments. Firefighting is woven deep into the fabric of the city. The Cincinnati Fire Museum has told this impressive story for decades, and it houses one of the best collection of firefighting artifacts in the country.

The Modern Era Collection (1913-Present)

“The Safe House” is a place where a visitor can experience the true danger of a fire in their home. This hands-on exhibit teaches fire-prevention tips and advice to help someone escape if their home catches on fire. Additionally, visitors can discover the importance of sitting down with the family and creating an escape plan.

Firefighters: The Radio Program That Saved Lives” is a fire safety radio program produced by William F. Holland Productions. This program was produced in the 1940’s, and its subsequent production, marketing, and impact of a revolutionary, nationally distributed radio program focused on promoting fire safety.

Another new display focuses on the tremendous achievements and impact of arguably Cincinnati’s most noteworthy fire chief, Barney Houston. Fire Chief Houston served in the role for over 40 years (from 1916 to 1957), making a significant impact on the development of firefighting and fire prevention in Cincinnati.

The Current Visitor Experience:

  • The self-guided parent/child tour often results in a quick walk-through, although there is posted exhibit signage.
  • Guided groups of children generally take about 30 minutes from beginning to end. Please call ahead and RSVP for Guided Tours.
  • The adult self-guided tour takes about 60 minutes in terms of duration depending on personal interest. The museum offers a well-researched history and large quantity of interesting artifacts that generally appeal to this group of “history-buffs.”

The Future Experience:

  • There is a planning process underway (with University of Cincinnati DAAP program) to develop the museum for the future.
  • Updated technology, as well as refurbished and new exhibits, will create a fitting tribute to the stories of our community’s heroes.
  • The unique and celebrated collection will shine in a completely reimagined space that allows visitors to get up close and personal with the artifacts. A new Safety Village will provide an interactive experience to teach children fire prevention and safety. Memorial Alley will commemorate those who paid the ultimate price. An interactive Timeline area will highlight significant points in the story of Cincinnati’s famed fire history.
  • Another future exhibit will include monitors with interactive touch screens so that visitors can learn about Greater Cincinnati area fire departments. This display is being developed in a direct effort to broaden the appeal beyond the City of Cincinnati.