The National Fire Heritage Center recently received two very generous donations of storage equipment and historic texts.
This is Part 5 in a series of articles that provide oral history guidelines for those who share our passion for collecting American fire history before it is lost to the ages.
The types of questions you ask are critical to the success of your interview. Open-ended questions are questions that encourage people to talk about what is important to them. They help to establish rapport, help you gather additional information, and increase your understanding. An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response.
This is Part 4 in a series of articles that provide oral history guidelines for those who share our passion for collecting American fire history before it is lost to the ages.
In preparation for your interview, you should:
- Learn as much as you can about the person beforehand.
- Bring a file folder of archived material.
- Be prepared with a set of questions to help get the interview started and to keep it going.
- Check audio and/or video recording equipment before going to the interview and check it again just before the interview session begins. Start each recording with the date, place, and names of participants, including your own.
- Keep and use notes of names, places, events and dates.
- Listen carefully to the interviewee. Follow leads in the conversation. Know when to move on to the next question by recognizing when the subject has been fully discussed. You can return to your list of questions at this time.
- Be reassuring and aware that when telling stories, memories and emotions may surface (joy, sadness, anger). Respect the interviewee’s feelings and be gentle.
You have probably heard this old cliché before, “Put your money where your mouth is.” The inference is that when you talk about a particular course of action, it doesn’t make much difference how much talk you engage in unless you actually do something about it.
This is Part 3 in a series of articles that provide oral history guidelines for those who share our passion for collecting American fire history before it is lost to the ages.
There is a pretty good chance at this point that you already know a person that you would like to interview. If not, look around your organization and you will probably find an active member of your department in their sixties or seventies, or even eighties. These people have the institutional knowledge of your department that would be of great historical benefit.
Look also around your community. There may be survivors of past disasters or victims of emergencies that would like to tell their story, too. Surviving family members of department personnel who have recently passed away may also be interesting interview subjects. There is really no end to the interview possibilities in your own community.
This is Part 2 in a series of articles that provide oral history guidelines for those who share our passion for collecting American fire history before it is lost to the ages. Read Part 1
If there is a contemporary interview style that you could easily identify with and effectively adopt, it might be that of a mental health care professional. A psychologist, or psychiatrist, will first establish a safe environment for the interviewee and provide an appropriate atmosphere for a person to tell their story. The person being interviewed is thoughtfully allowed to tell the story with carefully crafted follow-up questions asked by an attentive interviewer.
As an interviewer, you should never exploit the person you are interviewing or their story. An interview example that many of us see on television is the technique used by investigative reporters. But this type of interview technique is not the best example of how to conduct a historical oral interview! Investigative reporters are all about their story — regardless of who gets hurt in the process of getting to the “truth.”
The National Fire Heritage Center (NFHC) has announced Fireproof Children/Prevention1st of Rochester, New York, as the winner of the Benjamin Franklin Fire Writer’s Award for authorship of the formal text, “Juvenile Firesetting: A Community Guide to Prevention and Intervention.”
The sixth Wingspread conference was held last year in Racine, Wisconsin. Wingspread conferences are convened once every 10 years to discuss issues impacting the fire and rescue service now and into the foreseeable future. Forty-three fire and rescue leaders were invited to this intense three-day meeting.
The American fire service is fascinating in terms of the breadth of its history, the richness of its traditions, and the deeply embedded values and beliefs of those that serve this profession. The National Fire Heritage Center (NFHC) exists precisely to document and hold in trust the history and culture of the American Fire Service for future generations to study, explore and enjoy.
Much of our historical information is carried from one generation of firefighters to the next by our oral histories. The NFHC’s Board of Directors realizes that we must not wait to begin gathering these life stories. We must begin in earnest, to collect our oral traditions, one individual firefighter and fire service leader at a time. Collectively, we will capture important features about our firefighting culture that are seldom recorded or preserved. This type of information will expand our knowledge of the profession and be of value to future generations of fire service professionals and historians.
A fire that swept through the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, on May 28, 1977, killed 162 people and injured more than 100. As a result of this tragedy, national fire codes for public assembly occupancies were changed to require — for the first time — fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems to help prevent such an event from happening again.
Following months of massive work, planning and coordination, the April 8 sprinkler system dedication ceremony was accomplished with 200 visitors on hand. NFHC leadership attending included President Coleman, who served as emcee, plus a number of officers, directors, key personnel and staff. The dedication was followed by lunch at the Emmitsburg Senior Center.
A memorial tree was planted on April 24 at the National Fire Heritage Center in memory of Jan Gratton, a national leader in public fire education.