JEFFERSONVILLE — On the heels of a year that saw the Vintage Fire Museum set an attendance record and welcome visitors from 39 states, a new project is on the horizon for the Jeffersonville organization.
The nonprofit recently purchased a former auto dealership building across from the museum on Spring Street. A capital fundraising campaign has been launched with the goal of developing the property into a fire safety education center and a memorial garden honoring firefighters from the region who died in the line of duty.
The goal is to raise $600,000, and Curtis Peters, chair of the museum’s board of directors, said that about $225,000 has already been donated to the cause.
“We’ve found a nice home here in Jeffersonville. People have been very supportive and welcoming,” Peters said Friday. “And we also have a lot of support from New Albany and Floyd County and the entire metro Louisville area.”
The education center will feature simulation-like exhibits. There will be a mock kitchen, bathroom and bedroom that will allow visitors to understand potential fire hazards and dangers, as well as how to escape a deadly blaze.
For example, the bedroom will have two potential escape routes — a door and a window. During a simulation, a participant will feel the door knob to determine if it’s hot. If the person feels warmth, the fire has spread in the mock hallway and the individual should exit the room via the window that will be about three feet off the ground and will have a walkway attached to it for easy access.
“I look forward to having a place where kids can go to learn without watching a video,” said Marcia Hutslar, a volunteer at the museum.
While school groups will definitely be invited to use the education center, Peters said it will be designed for use by all ages.
A portion of the building, which was recently renovated including the installation of a new roof, will be used to store some of the museum’s parade fire trucks to ensure they aren’t damaged by exposure to outdoor elements.
In front of the building, the museum is working with Walnut Ridge Nursery & Garden Center on the design for the memorial garden. Peters said it will include monuments and markers honoring firefighters, and it’s the hope of the museum’s board that it will serve as a place for people to sit and reflect.
The museum is aggressively moving forward with the project with the hope the new facility can open by late spring. Though no plans have been officially approved, there likely will be a crosswalk installed across Spring Street to provide access to and from the buildings.
The museum launched its fundraiser, titled Ring the Bell, in July. Peters said the support has been appreciated and shows that people care about having the museum in Southern Indiana.
While it’s a local endeavor, the museum drew visitors from 14 countries in 2019. It also set an attendance record last year with 5,950 visitors touring the facility, an increase of 24.5% from 2018.
The museum was forced to close for two months due to the pandemic but is back open for its normal hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
“We still are an organization that’s run entirely on volunteers,” Peters said.
As for the education center, museum officials said the vision for it centers around four goals — celebration, preservation, education and inspiration.
“I think it’s going to be a really great addition in that we’ll have plenty of room over there to teach, especially young people, about fire safety,” said Vic Megenity, a board member who has been a part of the museum since it originally launched in New Albany.
Donations for the campaign are being accepted by mail and online. For more information, go to the website vintagefiremuseum.org.