Fireman’s Hall Museum lost a valued friend and supporter last month with the death of former Deputy Commissioner John Devlin. John came to the museum as the deputy chief of fire prevention in 2003 and, from that point forward, bubbled over with ideas on how to make the museum and its mission more informative and more fun. He would shortly go on to become a Deputy Commissioner of technical services, and his insights into how technology could be used benefitted both the Philadelphia Fire Department and the museum.
John spearheaded the return of the musters, once on Delaware Avenue and now held at the Fire Academy, where volunteer and professional firefighters came together to display equipment old and new and share ideas.
A man of infinite ideas and a keen appreciation of the value of technology John saw its uses for enriching the programming of the museum. A gift from photojournalist Sam Psoras in 2006 led to a wonderful exhibit not only of his photographs but also video oral histories of the fires and events they depicted.
A year later as the old Penny Benny statue crumbled in upon itself, John and his team spearheaded the effort to create a new statue of Franklin designed by sculptor James Pennington. Installed in Girard Park next to Engine 8 at Fourth and Arch Streets, Franklin gazes over his city. The park itself became an oasis for the community and today holds a mural depicting the history of the PFD.
His love of history came through as well and he reveled in special events such as the one honoring Ralph Archbold, the quintessential interpreter of Benjamin Franklin, presenting Ralph with an honorary chief’s hat.
Current day firefighters weren’t overlooked either as he urged the museum to document “A Day in the Life of a Firefighter” when volunteers captured the people that were a part of the PFD on the occasion of its 125th anniversary.
A safe house van and a school safety program expanded the museum’s fire prevention program in 2009 and the museum’s reputation expanded well beyond Old City when the airport invited Fireman’s Hall Museum to be a part of its art exhibition program.
John’s idea to show the stories behind the names on our memorial board led to the successful creation of an online exhibit highlighting the photographs, service records and more of each firefighter who died in the line of duty. It was unveiled at the museum in 2023 as a special application that sits near the memorial wall. The web version can be seen here: Philadelphia Fire Department’s Memorial Wall – Fireman’s Hall Museum Philadelphia.
John helped to celebrate other significant events, the 275th anniversary of the Union Fire Company, the opening of the time capsule from the old PFD headquarters at 13th & Race and various other fire department and museum milestones.
He remained on the board of Fireman’s Hall Museum after his retirement from the PFD, an active member until his death. He will be sorely missed.