2011-07-13 / News

Fire history activist cherishes memories, rare collectables

By Becky Robinette Wright

Tommy Herman has a collection of firefighting items, including 246 badges and 125 hats. Here, he holds a late 19th-century leather helmet. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Tommy Herman has a collection of firefighting items, including 246 badges and 125 hats. Here, he holds a late 19th-century leather helmet. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer An antique fire extinguisher, a few fire-hose nozzles, Dalmatian dog figurines, fire helmets of different types and colors, worn gloves and even tiny model fire engines. …

Welcome to Tommy Herman’s home and his huge collection of fire memorabilia.

Herman is not just a fire buff or a person addicted to collecting. He has a purpose, respect and love for the fire service.

Born in the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in 1949 (his father was a Marine), Herman has lived several places, but he calls Glen Allen his hometown. He moved to Chesterfield in 1973.

Herman has years of firefighting experience under his belt.

“I started out as a volunteer for Henrico County. We were called cadets,” Herman said proudly. “It was 1965, and my first station was Company 11.

”I wasn’t real fond of school, so a chance to do anything to get out of school made me happy. But what I didn’t know was [serving as a cadet] was going to change my life, and it did.”

Herman volunteered with the Henrico Fire Department until he relocated to Chesterfield. Earning a living to support his family, Herman served as a career firefighter with Richmond Fire and Emergency Medical Services from 1967-79.

After moving to Chesterfield, Herman’s life took another turn.

“I joined the Phillips Volunteer Association, which was a community group with the goal of starting volunteers in that area of the county. In 1976, Phillips Volunteer Fire Station became a reality, and I have been a member ever since.”

In 1975, Herman began to learn he just couldn’t say no to anything related to a fire department.

“That’s when my collecting began,” he said.

Herman’s journey preserving fire history began in New York.

“I had an interest in fire history, he said. “I had traveled to New York for a fire engine event, and there I learned citizens could own fire trucks. That launched my collecting in full swing.”

Herman collects anything that has to do with the fire service and its history. He has fire helmets that date back to the 1880’s.

“It’s important to preserve the history and these items,” Herman said, “so future generations can see how it was.”

As an activist for history, Herman became co-founder of the Virginia Regional Chapter of a national organization called Old Dominion Historical Fire Society in 1976.

In 2010, Herman authored the “Oren Fire Apparatus Photo Archive.” The book can be purchased at for $25.51. The Oren is a fire engine.

The book is a compiled gathering of 25 years of research documents and photos. The Oren, he says, was made by the only major manufacturer of fire apparatus [vehicles] in Virginia.

Ettrick Fire Station still has in its possession one of the antique engines. That Oren, Herman said, was the sixth fire truck built by Oren manufacturers.

Fire service history collecting is a bug that can be catching.

“When my kids were growing up,” he said, “we had a Dalmatian, so they started collecting all kinds of figurines of the dogs. We have those everywhere.

“My wife has her collection also. She collects fire department music boxes and has over 40. She also collects pedal cars and has a small fleet of them.”

For the Herman clan, history is a family affair.

If you hear sirens piercing the air and see red lights flashing in the River Road area of the county, Herman and the other dedicated members of Phillips Fire Station may just be coming your way. But they will be on a modern fire engine carrying the memories of the past in their hearts.

Return to top