Fighting Flames exhibit examines Federal Way firefighting history

Historical Society of Federal Way debuts exhibit this weekend.

Take a look back in time at firefighting as the Historical Society of Federal Way opens its newest exhibit, Fighting Flames: The History of South King Fire and Rescue.

“The exhibit shows the merging of the individual fire districts into one,” said Suzanne Vargo, one of museum’s board directors and exhibit executive of Fighting Flames. “How that happened, when it happened, and what they did to make it happen.”

Through informational panels, photographs, firefighting gear, and an array of vintage and modern equipment, attendees can explore the chronicles of the fire department serving Federal Way.

Five panels represent the different fire districts that used to be before becoming SKFR, Vargo said.

The first fire departments were made up of ordinary, untrained citizens with a determination to protect their community, she said.

Safety tips and a multitude of artifacts show the upgrades in technology and prevention, as well as how the firefighting industry has evolved since the early 1900s.

“We’re really excited to show a different side of the museum,” Vargo said about bringing in authentic artifacts.

The exhibit also includes a brief spotlight on the Bra Brigade and the Flames, also called the Fireflies, a group of women, often wives of the firefighter husbands, who stepped in when needed – whether it was by providing comfort, refreshments, fundraising or putting out fires.

Many of the items on display were donated by retired SKFR assistant chief Chuck Kahler, the Des Moines Museum, and local stations and citizens. Kahler retired in 2017 after more than 40 years of service with South King and Seattle fire departments.

He’s a keeper of history and sees the need to preserve the past, Vargo said. Aside from the artifacts, Kahler also recorded each call of his career in various journals – nearly 18,000 entries document every call he ever responded to.

“Our exhibit helps remember these experiences of history in the making,” Vargo said.

4 Culture, Lowe’s, Office Depot, the city of Federal Way, and King County also provided sponsorship and donations to the museum’s exhibit.

On display until spring, the exhibit is free, open to the public and suitable for all ages, with an interactive children’s area.

Saturday’s grand opening of the exhibit will include heavy refreshments and a visit from South King Fire and Rescue with a fire truck and fun giveaways.

The grand opening of Fighting Flames: The History of South King Fire and Rescue is Saturday, Nov. 17 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Steel Lake Park Annex, 2645 S. 312th street.

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