Philadelphia’s Fire Museum
The fire museum in Philadelphia is especially rich in heritage. It not only covers local history, but also the course of fire fighting in America, with an extensive collection of memorabilia, graphics and film plus actual early pumpers and other rolling stock.
The home of the museum is an 1899-built former fire station that housed Engine 8 from 1900 to 1952. Engine 8 can trace its roots back to Benjamin Franklin’s Union Fire Company, which was founded in 1776 in Grindstone Alley, about two blocks from Fireman’s Hall. The museum building is a nationally registered and certified national monument.
In historical area
Fireman’s Hall is also just a few steps from Elfreth’s Alley, regarded as the oldest street in the United States. It consists of residences from the early 1700s, all still occupied. Other special places nearby are Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross home and Ben Franklin’s grave site and museum.
The museum grew out of an earlier museum which came under the direction of Fire Commissioner Joseph R. Rizzo. With the coming of the United States Bicentennial celebration in 1976, the commissioner proposed the formation of the nonprofit Philadelphia Fire Department Historic Corporation to operate a new museum.
Appointed to the corporation as directors were some of the most prominent people and firms in the city’s business community, including the Insurance Company of North America and the Philadelphia Contributionship (Handin-Hand Insurance Company, established in 1752).
The old museum was closed at the end of 1975 for the purpose of remodeling. An architect was hired by the corporation to work in conjunction with the city architects in restoring the front of the building to its original condition. (It had been greatly changed to accommodate modern motor fire apparatus.) The restoration and an addition to the building were completed in June 1977 at a cost of $1 million.
Steamer and hand pumpers
On display are a 1907 Metropolitan steamer, an 1896 LaFranee horse-drawn ladder truck, an 1858 Button side-stroke pump, a 1730 Richard Newsham pumper, an 1809 Pat Lyon doubledecker end-stroke and a 1903 cannon wagon, the forerunner of today’s highpressure or deluge gun apparatus. As you enter the building there is an 1803 Lazzareto Pat Lyon end-stroke (small size) and a hose reel of 1848 vintage.
The second-floor exhibits trace the rise of the paid fire department. Models of early equipment, a collection of hand tools, an 1812 James Smith New York-style gooseneck side-stroke and a rare 1720 siphon pump are displayed. There is also a big hose reel made in Allentown, Pa., in 1846. It features mirror inlay in the hose reel.
No motorized apparatus is on display.
Dominating the room is a startling stained-glass window depicting the rescue of a child by Engine 8. When the sun is streaming through the window, it is a delight for the photographer or any visitor.
Another room is devoted to the memory of fire fighters who have died in the line of duty. This room is also used as a theater for the showing of sound/ slide shows or movies.
Pilot a fireboat
The pilot house of a fireboat has been reconstructed with a simulated fire scene showing through the windows, giving the impression that the fireboat is headed for a major fire on shore. It allows the visitor to “steer” a fireboat toward the blaze.
The front room recreates the living quarters of the early paid fire fighter.
Memberships are sold in Fireman’s Hall to keep it self-sustaining and to maintain the building. Members receive guided tours and a newsletter and are invited to attend special feature programs held monthly.
Fireman’s Hall is located on Second St. at Quarry (between Race and Arch Sts.). It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays). Admission is free.