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Becoming Fearless

The Oklahoma History Center is proud to announce the photography exhibit, Becoming Fearless. Becoming Fearless explores 70 years of firefighting in Oklahoma and is comprised of 25 black-and-white images, giving a unique look into the evolution of this profession. The exhibit opened on May 16, 2022, and is projected to be open for one year in the Chesapeake Event Center and Gallery at the Oklahoma History Center.

Two men stand in front of an elaborate fire engine with shops and passersby visible in the background.
A steam pumper Oklahoma City fire engine No. 9, taken between 1890 and 1920 (16820, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection, OHS).

Becoming Fearless traces firefighting from the early days of acrobatics, antics, and volunteerism in the 1900s to the sophisticated fire safety systems in place today. Feats of agility along with a bit of humor color the early days of firefighters. Horse-drawn fire equipment was the standard from 1889, when the Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD) was established, until 1910 when the first motorized firefighting vehicle was introduced. The long shifts lent themselves to the creation of fire stations as second homes and families, including pets or house mascots such as dogs, goats, and sheep.

The images chosen for the exhibit show great examples of firehouses, equipment, and uniforms from across the state. Guthrie established its fire department in 1889, the same year as Oklahoma City. Tulsa followed in 1900, Enid in 1902, and Edmond in 1903. Most started with volunteers only, and some rural areas today still utilize volunteer firefighters. A small selection of artifacts from the Oklahoma Historical Society collections are featured, including the 1951 Class A uniform worn by one of the first 12 African American OCFD firefighters, Marvin O. Nelson.

The Chesapeake Event Center and Gallery is used to hold meetings and events, so patrons should call in advance to make sure the room is open to the public on the day of their visit. Please call 405-522-0765 for more information.