When COVID-19 shut the world down in 2020, mere months into Chuck Montgomery’s tenure as executive director of the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting, he didn’t panic. In fact, he viewed it as a chance to do something special.
“It ended up being an awesome opportunity,” Montgomery said.
“In the three months I evaluated this place before my arrival, I really felt like there was a need for a number of things to be addressed. Those items, by incorporating the employees and volunteers, we did everything possible to essentially gut the museum and start all over from the A/C down to the plumbing to the flooring. We just decided to rebuild this place entirely. We spent 90 days making it a better version of itself.”
Montgomery’s passion for firefighting fueled his dedication to shine a light on the occupation at the museum.
“For me, it’s meaningful on two fronts,” said Montgomery, who retired as Glendale Fire Department’s deputy chief.
“It’s meaningful for me to see fire history preserved, having done it for most of my life. On a second note, the opportunity for us to educate the public—and I’m talking about youth—about fire safety is really paramount. It’s now difficult for fire departments and cities to deliver because of COVID.”
The museum gives the staff the chance to bring that information to kids, added Montgomery, who was a firefighter for 37 years.
Recently, Montgomery and his staff trained 1,600 second-grade students from the Cartwright School District. He said it was rewarding.
The museum’s education curator, Mark Moorhead, never worked as a firefighter. His resume includes stints as a journalist and stage actor.
“I never really knew much about it or had all that keen of an interest on it,” Moorhead said.
“I grew up in my small town, three doors down from the fire hall. Friends of mine from high school became firefighters. I never even really thought about it. I came to work here, because a friend of mine that’d I’d worked with in the theater had this job before I did. He hooked me up to get the job. I had no museum experience and no firefighting experience. They gave me the job anyway.”
In his 16 years with the museum, Moorehead has turned into a self-proclaimed “fire buff.”
“I’m really fascinated by this history, and it just turns out to be like the history of a hundred other things you never thought about,” he said.
“It’s more complex and more interesting than you realize. Without organized firefighting, you really don’t have civilization. But, it’s something that most people, including me before I came here, never thought about.”
Moorhead relishes the chance to share his love of fire history — especially with children. He takes them on Hall of Flame tours and teaches them about fire safety.
“Really, in a way, that’s the most important part of this mission, of course,” Moorhead said.
“I always think to myself that I would do these story times for kindergarten, and first- and second-grade kids and try to teach basic fire safety.
“You never know — at least not in this life — what kid didn’t set fire to his house because you taught him. But even if you just entertained that kid, just gave them a chuckle, and gave them a really lasting memory, that’s better than most people get to do with their day.”
Hall of Flame features antique fire trucks and artifacts. Among the items is a Ford F-750 transport buggy from Prescott used to carry the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire.
The museum places a premium on not only providing an informative experience, but a fun one as well.
“We are a real historical museum. You actually can learn something here,” Moorhead said. “We’re an archive, and we preserve these artifacts and this history. But, we also don’t take ourselves too seriously. You know our corny name. We try to have fun here too. It’s really for a kid at heart.”
Hall of Flame
6101 E. Van Buren Street, Phoenix
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday