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Robert T. Burns slides and photograph albums


Held at: Fireman's Hall Museum [Contact Us]147 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA , 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Fireman's Hall Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Robert T. Burns (1914-1989) was a battalion chief for the Philadelphia Fire Department, known for his devotion to fire fighting and for his propensity to carry around a camera for snapping photographs of the blazes he fought.

Burns' firefighting career began when he served in the Army's 1201st Engineer Fire Fighting Platoon during World War II. After the war he joined the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1947, and at the time of his retirement in 1968 was chief of Battalion 11 at 43rd and Market Streets. Even after retirement, Burns kept a 20-band scanner in his house and continued to visit fire scenes, sometimes in full gear.

Burns was editor of Officers Call, a monthly magazine for fire officers, for 14 years. He also contributed articles to Firehouse and Fire Engineering magazines. In 1953, Burns was awarded the Inquirer Hero Award for rescuing a woman from the Schuylkill. In 1986 he received an award from the Fire Commissioner "in recognition of his infinite devotion and efforts in preserving the history and tradition of the Philadelphia Fire Department." Two years later, he was issued an award from Firehouse magazine for "a lifetime of exemplary journalism in the American Fire Service." He lectured at various universities and seminars, and was a member of the Governor's Commission for Fire Prevention and Control, the League of the Sacred Heart, the Hospital Fire Marshals Association, the International Association of Fire Buffs, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and Firemen's Hall.


Nicholson, Jim. "Robert Burns, 'Great Firefighter.'" Philadelphia Daily News, January 19, 1989, p. 44.

This collection consists of about 70 slide carousels and 17 photograph albums. The bulk of the slides document Philadelphia fires and are identified with location. There are also carousels on other topics, such as fires outside Philadelphia, High Rises, "Hot Shots," etc. The photograph albums depict firefighters' organizations, social events, activities, and fires.

A partial, item-level inventory is available on-site.

On long-term loan from the Burns family.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2011-2012 as part of a pilot project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Fireman's Hall Museum directly for more information.

Fireman's Hall Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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