The amazing collection at this museum includes firefighting equipment that dates back to 1822, ranging from firefighters' axes and helmets to more than 40 gleaming fire trucks. Displays relate the history of putting out fires, from the bucket brigade to the hook and ladder. You can count on kids wanting to climb all over the shiny red machines, but there's only one they're allowed to scramble aboard, a 1957 Seagrave pumping engine. There also is a dress-up area where kids can try on real (and really heavy) firefighters' gear.
-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
A Hot Spot for Tots
By Amy S. Hansen
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 11, 2002; Page WE62
THE ROOM filled with nontoxic smoke. My 2-year-old and I were sitting on the floor, and I was ready to push him out before the smoke detector buzzed. "Just wait," said our guide, keeping his voice calm for the seven children and two adults crammed into a model bedroom. We were practicing escaping a burning building at the Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville, and he wanted us to learn the right way to do it.
The object was not just to get out of the room quickly, but to crawl out, locate the man dressed as a firefighter, mask and all, and still get to the designated meeting place without panicking.
We made it. The kids loved the excitement and seemed unconcerned about a firefighter in full garb. Maybe they recognized the hat, boots and jacket as the ones they had been playing with in the museum's discovery room.
The Fire Museum of Maryland has three main sections: the fire demonstration building, where staff take children and adults through mock fires; the discovery room, which has a real truck and kid-size firefighting clothing; and the museum, with a collection of hand-drawn, horse-drawn and self-propelled firetrucks.
We walked through the exhibits first. My 2- and 4-year-olds weren't interested in the signs explaining the displays, but their older nieces, ages 9 and 10, were. All of the kids sat down to watch several three-minute videos showing how the equipment was used.
The kids also liked the exhibit of older fire toys, including a miniature horse-drawn firetruck. While they were occupied, I explored an exhibit on the Baltimore Fire of 1904, a blaze so big that New York City sent trucks and crews to help.
I wanted to read more, but the kids spotted the discovery room and wouldn't wait quietly any longer.
Once there, they yanked on black pants with bright red suspenders, pulled on boots and chose between yellow and black jackets. With a red hat from the table, all seven kids, ages 2 to 10, were ready.
Some ran to the real truck -- a Mack pumper from 1939. Some ran to the wooden mock truck, painted red and big enough for several to climb on. My 2-year-old simply sat down, his boots too big to move. After several frustrating starts, he settled for a jacket and a hat, happy as long as he could carry around one of the toy fire dogs.
Which brought up a burning question: Why were dogs brought to fires anyway? The dogs were there because horses don't like fires, our guide explained. The dogs had a calming effect on them. The same effect they have on my kid, I thought. We took a quick lunch break. No food is allowed in the museum, but the staff encourages patrons to leave, visit restaurants and come back. Or, as in our case, eat PB&J at the museum's shaded picnic tables.
Refreshed, we went back in for another hour of play. While the kids were busy, I decided to make another query. "Where is the hook on a hook and ladder truck?" I asked our guide. He took me over to one of the older horse-drawn trucks. It had white wooden ladders stacked in a flatbed, but underneath there was what looked like a lethal shepherd's crook -- a straight pointed pole with a hook curving round into another point.
Firefighters use hooks to break windows or punch holes in ceilings. Nowadays, the big ladders dwarf all the other equipment, but the hooks are still there, and still look much the same.
Which was perhaps the overall message of the museum. While the tools have advanced, the job of the firefighter is still the same: Walk into a burning building, evacuate the people and put out the fire. And the job still requires the same amazing amounts of grit and courage that it always has.