Historical Society preview ‘soft-opens’ CCFD exhibit
It all started in 1962 with a few volunteers, an LCEC bucket truck and a submergible water pump that came from a pool company.
From those humble beginnings, the Cape Coral Fire Department has grown along with the city to 11 stations (and two more on the way) staffed by 235 paid personnel working with a $37.5 million budget.
On Thursday, the Cape Coral Historical Museum, along with current and past fire employees, held a reception to celebrate a new exhibit at the museum at 544 Cultural Park Blvd., showing the history of the department that predates Cape Coral becoming a city 50 years ago.
The exhibit “Behind the Mask: Cape Coral Heroes” looks at the history of the fire department, the city’s first form of government, through photos, memorabilia and equipment.
Gloria Tate said the idea was to take people back to the beginning when it was a volunteer department and lead them to now, a professional department serving nearly 200,000 people. It also was a way to get people to come to the museum for fresh new look.
“The exhibit is beautiful. It honors our first fire chief and how we got started and the equipment we used early on,” Tate said. “We’ve worked on this for the past eight weeks with the former fire chief Bill Van Helden and several retired firefighters.”
Tate said the title was tongue-in-cheek, since everyone is wearing masks these days because of the pandemic. She added in the future they will create exhibits to honor the police department, Cape Coral Hospital and city parks, and who and why they were named for certain people.
“Firefighters are really modern-day superheroes who put their lives in the line to save ours every day,” Tate said. “It takes a special person to put themselves in harm’s way to fight a fire. It’s time to honor them.”
Current fire chief Ryan Lamb said it’s important to remember the past because it helps people to better serve in the future, with the city still at only 50 percent capacity.
“It one of those things that hasn’t been documented well that we’ve been trying to do better. We were able to talk with Bob Phillips, one of the last surviving volunteers to get some of the information on its origins,” Lamb said, who added in the beginning, Fort Myers and North Fort Myers provided fire service, and would take 45 minutes to arrive at the scene.
The event featured information about the department’s past, and a proclamation from Mayor Joe Coviello before people were allowed to see the exhibit for the first time, which will be open until early next year.
“It’s nice we celebrate the city’s 50th anniversary this whole year, and it’s nice to look back on history. One of our pride and joys is our fire department,” Coviello said. “From two firefighters to what they’ve become today is something to see. I’m proud we have the safety departments that make sure we’re servicing our residents.”