New Bedford Fire Museum
The New Bedford Fire Museum is located at 51 Bedford Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The museum is also home to Station No. 4 and is quite possibly the oldest active fire station in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It first opened in 1867. The fire station was initially staffed completely by volunteers. In 1913, paid employees operated the station for a while. A few years ago, the station returned to being staffed by volunteers. The displays inside the museum are open during the summer months for visitors interested in the history of firefighting, especially in New Bedford.
Backstory and Context
The museum has a vast collection of firefighting artifacts, including old engines, a steam pumper, and equipment from different eras. There are two poles that the children can use to slide down to the first floor. Originally, one of the poles was meant for the lieutenant; everyone else could use the other slide. The New Bedford firefighters were reportedly very particular about which rank used what pole.
The fire museum contains a few interesting artifacts from when its men helped to fight the Great Boston Fire in 1872, including a telegram from Boston’s Mayor William Gaston, politely requesting aid. The fire devastated 776 buildings within 65 acres of land in the city. It lasted for two days in November 1872 and it took the firefighters at least 12 hours just to get it under control. Firefighters from all over the greater Boston area, including New Bedford, descended on the city to help stop the blaze.
There is also a photograph of the men who made up Engine Company No. 4 taken on July 4, 1877, complete with the station’s Dalmatian. There are several fire engines featured in the museum, including a fully restored steam-driven pumper from 1884. The pumper was named after Cornelius Howard, a shipmaster who was also very interested in firefighting. He helped transition the fire station from hand pumpers to steam pumpers so he earned the honor of having the new pumper named after him.
Children are more than welcome at the fire museum. They can sit in the fire trucks and pretend that they are driving them to a fire. The kids are even allowed to put on the gear, gas masks, and sound the loud sirens. The best part, probably for any kid, is being able to slide down the pole!
The old engines housed in the museum are occasionally taken out for a short, slow ride. They are driven in many of the local parades, including the famous Bristol 4th of July celebration.
Downtown New Bedford Guide & Map. Downtown New Bedford, Inc.. Accessed October 06, 2017. http://www.downtownnb.org/DNB_guide2016.pdf.
Cuddy, Don. Fire Museum is a cultural hot spot in New Bedford. Southcoast Today. August 07, 2010. Accessed October 06, 2017. http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20100807/LIFE/8070320.
Great Boston Fire of 1872. Boston Fire Historical Society. Accessed October 08, 2017. http://bostonfirehistory.org/fires/great-boston-fire-of-1872/.