Ken Freiberg Fire Museum in the Chief Carl R Nelson Fire Station
In 2020, City Council passed two resolutions naming the city's original fire station after individuals who were instrumental in the creation of Thornton's fire department.
The first Council resolution renamed Fire Station 1 located at 9451 Dorothy Blvd. as the Carl Nelson Fire Station (now referred to as the Chief Carl R Nelson Fire Station), recognizing its historical significance to the city. The building was constructed in 1958 as part of the combined Fire Station/City Municipal Building funded by the issuance of $130,000 in bonds approved by the City’s residents in November 1957. It was in continuous service since 1958 and retired from service in late 2020 after a new Fire Station 1 was built on Thornton Parkway.
Carl Nelson, who had been a volunteer with the Thornton Fire Department, Inc., became the first paid Fire Chief of the City appointed in April 1957 by City Council, but not until he insisted that the City Council hire two firefighters first. Fire Chief Carl Nelson served until his retirement in August 1976 having overseen the construction of three Fire Stations in the City (Fire Station 1 in 1958; Fire Station 2 in 1973; and Fire Station 3 in 1974). His more than 20 years of service to the City first in a volunteer capacity and then in his capacity as the City’s first Fire Chief, met the criteria in City Council Policy 10.4 Naming of City Facilities and Honorary Street Name Designations for persons who contribute service of over 20 years to the community. The City recognized the contribution Chief Carl Nelson and the longstanding role Fire Station 1 played, recognizing its historical significance to the City with this renaming. Thornton Arts, Sciences and Humanities Council (TASHCO) also expressed interest in coming up with a way to make Fire Station 1 a Fire Department Historical Museum and incorporate recognition of early Thornton history.
The second Council resolution recognized Ken Freiberg who organized the Thornton Volunteer Fire Department in 1954 and served on the Department for 28 years. As a volunteer firefighter, Mr. Freiberg was instrumental in forming the first organized fire department in the City and served as the first Fire Chief of Volunteers and Assistant Chief of the Fire Department. During his years of volunteer service, Mr. Freiberg supported the incorporation of the City and, along with 32 additional firefighters, turned over the organization to the new city. Mr. Freiberg also started the Fire Pension Board and was a member for many years, and shares his complete background and knowledge of the entire history of the Fire Department with the goal of preserving it by speaking at the initial class of each Citizen’s Fire Academy, and elsewhere to the public. City Council honored Mr. Freiberg for his significant contributions to the City by naming the Fire Museum in the Chief Carl R Nelson Fire Station the Ken Freiberg Fire Museum. Mr. Freiberg was also instrumental in pursuing the naming of the original Fire Station 1 after the first paid Fire Chief, Carl Nelson, as he and Carl were longtime friends and peers.
In 2021, Thornton Arts Sciences and Humanities Council (TASHCO) started biweekly subcommittee meetings to explore development of the Ken Freiberg Fire Museum. Members also conducted community outreach at city events and meetings to generate awareness of the museum and related planning as well as visiting fire museums along the Front Range to see how they function. TASHCO also collaborated with city staff and the community to determine how best to tell the story of the past and present, growth, and functions of the Thornton Fire Department, including the collection, preservation and display of related artifacts to educate present and future generations about the department.
TASHCO presented City Council with its analysis and recommendations for use of the historic facility. These consisted of hiring of a museum consultant to assess the potential of the building to house a museum and related operations; purchase of an archival collections management software; and a request to increase the hours of the existing archival technician from 20 to 40 hours a week. These three recommendations were approved and budgeted with the hiring of a consultant being the priority in 2021, followed by purchase of the software and fulltime archival technician position in 2022.
A Request for Qualifications was issued and the firm, Architectural Workshop, was hired by the city to conduct a museum feasibility study to understand all the needs for the
new museum including construction, design, market analysis, operations and related budgets and timelines. The firm presented the results of its study to Council in 2022 which included three levels of onsite improvements and operations depending on available city resources. A funding proposal was also provided by the former Fire Chief, Gordie Olson, who recommended spreading the cost of upgrades to the building over three years (2023-2025) with initial city funding supplemented by private and grant funding raised separately.
Arts and Culture staff have also archived hundreds of donated items and opened the museum on Second Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (March-October) for the public to visit and view fire department equipment and materials used in the original station since the 1950s. The Fire Union has also displayed historic fire trucks in the museum. The city has completed exterior improvements to the museum building including new signage, garage doors and flag poles. Interior improvements are expected to start in 2024 with the addition of onsite staff planned for 2025. Retired firefighters and members of the museum subcommittee continue to meet and share information about the city's first museum at various Thornton community events. Contact Alisa.Zimmerman@ThorntonCO.gov for information on future meetings and event outreach.
The Fire Museum archive collection is constantly growing and can be viewed online. Video interviews can be found here. Material donations can be scheduled by contacting City Archivist, Ashley.Milligan@ThorntonCO.gov. The public can also view rotating displays of the city's archival collections at the Margaret Carpenter Recreation Center at 11151 Colorado Blvd. and the Active Adult Center at 11181 Colorado Blvd. Additional information on Thornton history is here.
All information is subject to change.