Location: 278 Spring Street, New York
The New York City Fire Museum houses one of the nation‘s most important collections of fire related art and artifacts from the late 18th century to the present. Among its holdings are painted leather buckets, helmets, parade hats and belts, lanterns and tools, pre Civil War hand pumped fire engines, horse drawn vehicles and early motorized apparatus.
The history of an organized firefighting force began with the Rattle Watch, men who would prowl the streets at night, keeping a watchful eye for fires. If fire was spotted they would spin their rattles and the racket would alert the residents to grab their buckets and run to the fire.
One of the earliest fire engines in the collection is the Farnam style engine. Built in New York around 1790, it is one of the oldest fire engines in North America. A vast improvement over buckets in getting water on a fire, this engine had two arms (called brakes) that were pumped up and down in a see-saw motion. Displayed as if on parade, are striking examples of more elaborate hand-drawn and hand-pumped engines, including a piano box style engine, a goose neck pumper, and a double-decker Philadelphia style engine which aside from fighting many a fire was also at the opening celebration of the Statue of Liberty.
Accompanying the engines are three excellent examples of four-wheeled hose reels. The Steinway Hose No. 7 shown here and Astoria Hose No. 8 once raced to the same fires in what is now the borough of Queens. The highly decorated reels belie their once crucial function of bringing hose to fires.
The collection includes later equipment as well. The majority of the thousands of steam fire engines that once existed in the U.S. were destroyed in the scrap drives of World War II, but enough survived to ensure that a great many fire history exhibits throughout the country include one. At the NYC Fire Museum, not only do we have the beautiful horse drawn 1901 LaFrance steam engine seen here which saw service in Brooklyn, but we have a 1912 steamer with a gas powered Van Blerck tractor. A horse-drawn ladder wagon, early rescue gear and breathing equipment, alarm boxes from various eras, and motorized vehicles such as a 1921 American La France engine give a sense of what firefighting was like at different times in the city‘s history.
Besides apparatus, the museum exhibits an astonishing number of other fire service accouterments from New York City‘s early years. Rare painted parade hats, speaking trumpets, leather fire buckets, uniform parts and insignia, tools and lanterns, and decorative elements from equipment are on view in quantity.
The NYC Fire Museum has a collection of over 2,000 fire marks, the fire insurance company advertising emblems. We have so many that only a small portion are on exhibit, the rest are held in storage for use in temporary exhibits or for study by historians and other researchers.
Also on display are the modern tools and clothing of the modern firefighters. The transition from turnout coats to all encompassing bunker gear can be seen on a series of mannequins. Tools such as the Halligan forcible entry tool and the Jaws of Life shown here help to inform one as to what it it is like to be a firefighter. And of course there are always real firefighters on hand to talk to too.