New York City Fire Museum
Backstory and Context
For the first two hundred years of New York City’s existence, fire fighting was handled entirely by volunteers. As early as the mid-1600s, companies of volunteers armed with leather buckets of water were organized to put out fires. Many of these groups were operated independent of one another and lacked cooperation; they gained a reputation for rivalries and competition, which threatened their ability to fight fires effectively. The rise of industrialization in the 1800s also led to the rise of larger, more-dangerous fires that required more skill to combat. In 1865, New York City established its first paid fire fighting service, and supplied it with professional equipment and training. Originally known as the Metropolitan Fire Department, the name was later changed to the Fire Department of the City of New York in 1898. Today it is the second-largest fire department in the world, only behind Tokyo’s fire department.
The first museum dedicated to New York’s fire department was the Fire College Museum, which opened in 1934 in Long Island City. In 1959, the museum’s contents were transferred to a firehouse on Duane Street in Manhattan. In 1981 the Home Insurance Company donated its substantial collection of fire memorabilia, which greatly expanded the museum’s inventory and created the need to find a larger, permanent facility. A non-profit group, the Friends of the New York City Fire Department Collection, was formed to raise money to relocate the museum. It acquired and renovated a former firehouse on Spring Street. The Beaux-Arts style building was constructed in 1904 and housed the fire department’s Engine Company No. 30. The New York City Fire Museum officially opened to the public in 1987.
The museum holds a collection of over 10,000 artifacts, of which only 3% are on display at any given time, on two floors of exhibits. Items include memorabilia, artwork, and various uniforms, equipment, and models of fire engines used by the department over the centuries. The museum currently has five permanent exhibits and one rotating temporary exhibit. Among these is the 9/11 Memorial Room, the first permanent memorial to the 343 New York City firefighters who perished during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In addition to preserving the history of New York’s fire department, the museum also works to educate the public about fire safety. It offers tours through a mock house in which participants experience a simulation fire and evacuation. The museum also operates a gift shop, and rents out the third floor as an event space.
“About Our Museum.” New York City Fire Museum. Accessed April 6, 2018. https://www.nycfiremuseum.org/about_nycfm.cfm
“At the Ready: The History of the New York City Fire Department.” The Bowery Boys. February 7, 2014. Accessed April 6, 2018. http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2014/02/at-ready-history-of-new-york-city-fire.html
Great Museums. “Trial By Fire: The New York City Fire Museum” (video). Posted December 8, 2009. Accessed April 6, 2018. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TJWVFbs6cC4
New York City Fire Museum. “NYC Fire Museum – Celebrating 150 Years of Fire Fighting History” (video). Posted April 16, 2015. Accessed April 6, 2018. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M95rmE0Jffg
Schulz, Bill. “Firefighting the Old-School Way.” New York Times. May 22, 2015. Accessed April 6, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/nyregion/firefighting-the-old-school-way.html
Image 1: http://www.nycfiremuseum.org/files/PROMO%20IMAGES/engine_30_nycfm_exterior.jpg
Image 2: http://elegantaffairscaterers.com/new-york-city-fire-museum/Image 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quW0mRQ1xCk