By Ron Heal
Each April brings thousands of fire service personnel to FDIC International to see and learn about the newest innovations in their industry. Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, is a gracious host for the better part of a week. Just a few miles to the northeast of downtown is one of the finest fire museums in the Midwest. Koorsen Fire & Security is one of the largest fire extinguishers, extinguisher systems, and fire security suppliers in the country. Located at 2820 N. Webster, off east 30th Street, the three-building complex includes the AHJ Training Center. The museum is a part of the state-of-the-art training facility.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stroup established the Indiana Fire Prevention and Service Company in 1946, servicing fire extinguishers out of a garage. Their daughter and son-in-law bought out the business in 1954. Their son, Randy Koorsen joined the company after graduating from college in 1969. Today, Koorsen is one of the largest and most respected life safety companies in the industry. They are 1,100 employees strong, serving six Midwest states from more than 30 locations. Indianapolis is the root of the business and corporate headquarters. Since 1984, third-generation family member Randy Koorsen has served as CEO, guiding the company to a position of leadership in the fire protection and security industry.
The three-building Koorsen campus is impressive. One of the buildings is the one-of-a kind AHJ Training Center. Seminars and meetings focused around fire protection training are held on a regular basis. Located in this same building is a museum containing an outstanding collection of fire extinguishers of all types, fire alarm boxes and systems, and fire apparatus. The collection goes back to the very early days of firefighting with leather buckets and continues up to current fire extinguishing devices.
How does such a museum get started? Randy Koorsen says that it all started when he was a youngster around his parent’s business. His dad came across an interesting vintage extinguisher that he thought Koorsen might want to hang onto. He did. The rest is a part of history. Koorsen has a passion for the fire extinguisher and security industry and has been very successful. This has allowed the collection to continue to grow. In the early days of the collection, soda-acid extinguishers were being phased out and became popular collectors’ items with their brass shells. Today there is a room-full of more than 870 bright and shiny fire extinguishers of every type ever produced. Koorsen also represents the Gamewell alarm product. There is a very nice selection of prized Gamewell products including gongs, indicators, and repeaters.
For fire apparatus enthusiasts, the best is yet to come as you enter a very well-presented selection of fire apparatus from hand-drawn to horse-drawn to early motorized firefighting equipment. The display area dazzles with the array of apparatus. There is not enough space to list all the apparatus on display. A few pieces of note in the more than 30 rigs and carts on display caught my attention. I admit that on the day I arrived for FDIC and made an early stop at the Koorsen Museum, I was like a kid in the candy store. I had the museum all to myself. There was ample time to take all the pictures I wanted. The staff was very courteous and helpful. I had learned about this fine collection from Getz Fire Equipment, a Peoria, Illinois, based fire extinguisher business that had attended training at Koorsen’s. For all the years that I had been to FDIC, I was not aware there was such a great display available to the public. While most visitors to the museum are people at the location for fire-related training on a Monday-to-Friday basis, the museum is also open to the public and is free! Hours are 8:00 A.M to 4:00 P.M. It may be best to call the switchboard at (317) 542-1800 and ask for the training center/museum for questions and best directions to the complex.
A Phoenix #6 1840 Thayer hand pumper that served Newmarket, New Hampshire, painted in white, was first to catch my attention. Next was a 1922 American LaFrance pumper that served Lake Placid, New York. An Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department 1921 Stutz pumper that was rebuilt in 1943 and a 1924 Seagrave chemical unit that served Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, are just a few of the rigs on display. Koorsen shared that a centerpiece to the apparatus display, a 1908 American LaFrance Metropolitan steamer size 4 that served Bath, Pennsylvania, is being professionally restored and is expected to be on hand this year. An 1871 hose carriage that served the Hibernia Fire Department #6 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is also on its way.
When one FDIC wraps up in Indianapolis it is time to start to think about next year’s show. I am already making plans to revisit the Koorsen Museum to check out the new additions. There are several quality fire-service-related museums across the country. The Koorsen Museum is unique in that it covers several aspects of firefighting and extinguishing agents. For those with a keen interest in firefighting history, this is a display to be seen and enjoyed. We are fortunate that someone such as Randy Koorsen started a collection all those years ago that he and his organization are gladly willing to share. Whether it is during FDIC or any other weekday that you might be in the Indianapolis area, you are welcome to stop and visit. While talking with Koorsen for this feature he shared that he is partnering with the Indiana Children’s Museum to present a fire safety program for kids. I hope the kids get to enjoy the Koorsen collection as much as I did. What a great find!
Special thanks to Randy Koorsen for his courtesies while preparing this feature.