It all started on a Sunday afternoon in 1962 when Stephen G. Heaver of Baltimore came across a fire engine for sale while browsing in the classified pages of the Sunday Sun. That very day, he drove out to Hereford and bought it. By 1969, Heaver owned 13 motorized fire engines. That year, he heard about a museum in Baldwin, Long Island, that had 14 vintage pieces of hand-drawn and horse-drawn fire equipment. Heaver went to New York and bought the fellow out.

By then, Heaver's hobby was getting a little out of hand, the main question being where to keep the darn things. But being in the construction business, he came up with a solution. To the great delight of children and anyone who ever yearned as a child to grow up a firefighter, he built the Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville near Baltimore. Today, the museum houses more than 50 antique fire vehicles and related memorabilia, with Heaver's collection as the nucleus and the other pieces on lifetime loan from the city of Baltimore and the Maryland Historical Society.

The museum is a gem. A volunteer staff of 17 gets together every Tuesday night to lovingly restore and maintain the old machines. On Sundays from 1 to 5, April through October, they prowl the museum floor, ready to answer questions. Occasionally, they cart out the apparatus for a "muster" -- a gathering of firefighters and a demonstration of their equipment.

One such gathering happens on Sunday, October 5th, from noon to 4 at the Timonium Fairgrounds, where the Baltimore County Fire Department will be holding its Fire Prevention Week Expo. Since the museum will be participating, it'll be closed that day.

The museum's dazzling array of fire engines is polished to a brilliance that would make a drill sergeant drool. They're not all red; one 1891 hook-and-ladder was painted blue, the favorite color of the mayor's daughter. The pieces are arranged chronologically and well-marked, making it easy to fashion a self-tour of the colorful history of firefighting in this country. The background music is barbershop quartet, punctuated by bells, alarms and the staccato bursts of a short-wave radio tape from the station house.

Naturally, kids are wide-eyed at all this and eager to play firefighter. There is one fire engine marked Piney Point, Maryland, outside the museum that children can climb on. But the museum discourages forays on its restored treasures.

But a sense of fun prevails. Guides are happy to show off the telegraph system or the model steam engine to curious children and tolerant when the kids set off the fire alarm one more time. A youngster in a red plastic fire helmet casually picked up the brass nozzle of a fire hose and almost dropped it: "Gee, this is heavy!" He was equally surprised to discover that the heavy-looking mock extinguisher mext to it was light.

Group headings reflect the major developments in firefighting equipment from the 17th century: from hand-drawn apparatus (1654 through the Civil War); horse-drawn apparatus (1852 through World War I) gas driven (1910 through World War II); and diesel-driven, since the 1950s.

In the hand-drawn section, be sure to see the "Deluge." It was built in 1820 in New York by James Smith, the premier fire engine builder of his day.It's copiously ornate in a French provincial mode right down to an oil painting that resembles Venice on the back of the pump housing.

Then there are the motorized steamers, the "bulldogs" manufactured by Mack Brothers between 1915 and 1939. They were so-called because of their ruggedness and snub-nose designed hood. A 1933 Ahrens-Fox on display was, in its day, the ne plus ultra of piston-pumping engines.Its six-cylinder pump could deliver 1,300 gallons of water per minute at 160 pounds per square inch.

After your history lesson, browse around. Besides fire engines, you can see an 1882 Criterion music box used during informal dances in the fire hall. Upstairs is a collection of badges, fire engine models, extinguishers, ladders, buckets, bells and alarms, pumps, gas masks and old photographs. Sundries found in every firehouse a generation ago include checkers, watches and razors. Fire-related toys range from the cast-iron, horse-drawn fire engines of the Civil War period to the plastic Fisher-Price model that seems to be on every toy shelf today. Children's original art work of fire-fighting is a nice touch.

Helmets trace the fashions in fire headgear and one, a hand-painted volunteer's top hat worn to parades in the early 1800s, would be the envy of the late conductor and fire buff Arthur Fielder. As a souvenir for kids, you could do worse than a plastic fire chief's hat the museum sells for 60 cents. Our son has been wearing one now for days.