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Interview with Kimberly Crafton
Meet Kimberly Crafton, executive director of the Fire Museum of Memphis
Posted on 02/07/2020
By Leah Kraus, Digital Content Coordinator

“It’s a fun place and we have the most amazing fire services folks here.” That’s how Kimberly Crafton describes the Fire Museum of Memphis. She is the new executive director of the museum and has been in the role for just over a month. We caught up with her to learn about her background, her favorite things about the bluff city, and what’s in store for the Fire Museum. 

Tell us about yourself?
I’ve been with the Fire Museum since December. I came here from Girl Scouts Heart of the South. I had been with them for five years but am a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts, which is very near and dear to my heart. That’s how I met [Fire] Director Gina Sweat. She’s on the board so I got to know her and work with her. When the executive director position at the museum opened she encouraged me to try for the position. I met with the board, did interviews, and had already fallen in love with the place. I had been here a couple times as a guest and have friends in the fire services that brought me here for different things, so I just knew it was a really great museum and wanted to come be a part of it. 

You were working in New York City during 9/11. Talk about how that experience shaped you?
I worked for the communications company that provided communication equipment for first responders in New York City. My office was in the south tower of the World Trade Center. If I had been sitting at my desk that day I would have been looking out the window going “that plane is going to go around the building in a minute, right?” My office was two floors above where the plane hit. I did crisis communication for the company, so a lot of times it meant that I was traveling to different locations. The night before, I had been sent up to Rochester, NY to deal with an incident. I got a call saying you need to come back to New York City now, we’re sending somebody to pick you up. The attacks were on TV in the hospital so I had kind of seen what was going on, but Kimberly Craftonthought it was a movie trailer, I didn’t realize the TV was on CNN. When the nurse came in she said “you do realize that’s real?” The Secret Service came to the hospital, picked me up, our chief engineer was also in Rochester at the same time dealing with the same issue, so picked up the both of us and drove back in to New York City. We got our clearance and background checks and went straight to Gracie Mansion and ended up dealing with President Bush’s crisis team, the City’s crisis team as well as our crisis team. 

When the towers came down that meant the antennas came down which meant communication was zero. I spent the next seven days working non-stop. I helped write some of President Bush’s first speeches that were given after 9/11. For me, it was different than what the rest of the world was experiencing because I was closed in, doing my job, and not really seeing what was going on outside and seeing the effect that the attacks had on the country, and how it pulled us all together. And I hate that it has to be something like that that pulls us together, but it did, and it was a good thing for that, at least. 

After seven days, I went back out into the world and thought “wow, everyone’s getting along, this is great,” and then it dawned on me why we were being so nice to each other… because we’d had this tragedy. My next door neighbor was one of the first responders who passed away; he was one of the first ones that ran in the door when it happened. I know his wife, his kids, so it really affected me. So many of the people I worked with in our company passed away or were injured. Our administration assistant didn’t make it out of the building – she was a floor down from us. It really shapes your view of the world. It really makes you want to live a life that’s positive and that you can make a difference in the lives of others. 

The 9/11 memorial downstairs – I see it every morning coming in. It really means something to me because of that connection to New York City and working with first responders. 

You’re originally from Birmingham, AL and after 9/11 you moved back to the South – to Memphis. What do you love about this city?
The Fire Museum is my favorite thing about Memphis. It’s a great museum. This morning I got to talk to a group of kids that were here and I asked them “what do you do in an emergency?” and they said “call 911!” They knew all the answers and it was really great to get to see them and what they had learned so far. I love the people in Memphis. The people here are amazing. It’s a big small town – everybody knows everybody. Memphis is just a great place with great people, good folks, good hearts, Southern charm, everything you could ask for. 

Do you have a favorite part of the museum or a favorite exhibit?
My favorite exhibit is the virtual reality fire truck. It’s fun. I have grandchildren and they love that kind of stuff. It’s so neat to get in it and see what it’s like to drive through Memphis in a big, red firetruck. That’s my favorite thing. 

What’s new on the horizon for the museum?
We are looking at doing quite a few updates to the museum to get it more digitally minded. We realized that moms come in and they want to take video of the kids playing or driving the fire truck so there needs to be a lot of digital updates. One of the newest things they’ve added is an arcade, where kids can go in at the end of their tour and there are huge touch screens and the kids can take a quiz on what they’ve learned. We want to do more things like that that are more interactive with the kids. Getting our history with fire services more digitized so that if someone wants to come in and look up a fire in 1930, they can go on to a kiosk somehow and look that up and find out more information – preserving history in a way so it’s more digital. 

What else do you want to tell us?
Come to the museum! It’s great. It’s a fun place and we have the most amazing fire services folks here that do tours. If your kid’s class wants a fire educator to come out and teach them about fire safety we are more than happy to do that. And you have to come to the museum and see the Dalmatians. I love playing with them for a few minutes every morning when I come in and it’s great to see the kids interact with them because they learn from them so well.
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