My preschool age son recently asked, “Policemen help sort problems, while firemen drive trucks and climb ladders?” Being that we live in New York, where our firemen are the closest thing we have to superheros, I thought it was time to educate him on their other important job requirements. So, one slushy winter day, along with our visiting LA friends and their 3-year-old daughter, we battled the elements to visit the New York City Fire Museum in Soho.
Upon arrival, we marvelled at the renovated three-story firehouse that the museum is housed in. (The third floor is a gorgeous event space that can be rented for birthday parties.) We bought our tickets in the gift store, where you can purchase cool NYFD toddler tees, firetruck puzzles and plastic helmets. And then we set off to explore the museum. In my (and my son’s) imagination there would be trucks to pretend drive, poles to slide down and lessons to learn about fire safety.
The first room was filled to the brim with the oldest fire trucks you have ever seen. The antiquated big wheeled steam operated trucks and the horse-drawn fire carts were dazzling. “I want to drive it!” yelled my son. “Up, up, uppie!” cried our friends daughter. Alas, a giant “NO CLIMBING” sign thwarted the kids in their tracks. Next, we saw a 1920s shiny motorized pumper cart, that looked straight out of a vintage car show. “I’m going to climb this ladder,” said my son. Nope, no touching this one either. Onward we voyaged through centuries of fire trucks, documents, buckets, axes, awards, alarms; all for the looking–not the touching. Eventually, we found a rack of dress up clothes, where kids can try on helmets and little firefighter jackets, but this did nothing to appease our two slightly hysterical wannabe firetruck drivers.
Parents and grandparents who visit the museum will be interested in the extremely captivating 9-11 Memorial. Moving photographs and recovered objects (including a piece of one of the planes) are displayed in cases. This slice of history is thoroughly and sensitively exhibited and presents a great opportunity to talk with older kids about the heroics of firemen. Unfortunately, our kiddos just wanted to push buttons and press levers.
In the main room, we found a life-size dog lounging inside a glass case. Our kids were interested in hearing the story of the little rescue dog who became a firehouse mascot in the 1930s; riding the firetrucks, learning to climb ladders and rescuing people (and even kittens)! Crazier still, a taxidermist actually stuffed and mounted the pooch into this place of honor in the firehouse. Our kids did not seem to be creeped out, as much as their parents were. “I want to pet that dog,” said our friend’s daughter. Sorry, no touching.
I was encouraged by the fact that there was another floor to explore, but upstairs were even older untouchable trucks that looked right out of a Disney storybook. Before we had a chance to really examine any of these beautiful carriages, there was a loud BOOM across the room. An extremely heavy brass railing (that on closer inspection had been possibly duct taped to a pole) fell with an excruciating loud thud. Luckily, no feet or hands got in the way, or we’d have definitely disobeyed the prevalent “no touching” rule and sounded the alarm…for an ambulance.
Our biggest emergency was finding a close child-friendly lunch spot. We opted for the Tribeca branch of Westville, where we found enough space for strollers, crayons, and coloring pages. The menu satisfies young palettes with hot dogs, grilled cheese and mac and cheese, while adults can indulge in kale salads, salmon burgers and a great selection of farm fresh veggies.
New York City Fire Museum, 278 Spring Street (between Hudson and Varick). (212) 691-1303 Admission: 8$ for adults, $5 for children (12 and under). Open 7 days a week 10:00am-5:00pm. The NYC Fire Museum offers birthday party packages and has a large private room for special events.
Westville, 333 Hudson Street at Charleton St. (212) 776-1404 Hours: Monday through Friday: 9:00am- 11:00pm; Saturday and Sunday: 10:00am-11:00pm