Where There's Smoke The New York City Fire Museum

 These days SoHo is populated by fancy eateries, high-end boutiques, the Apple  store, and of course, the art galleries. On the weekends, the streets are  packed with shoppers and tourists. This neighborhood is characteristic of  several aspects of today’s New York: stylish, modern, hipster, wealthy, trendy.  

 But somewhere tucked away in that same neighborhood is a reminder of New York’s past that highlights an important public service that's often taken for  granted. In fact, if you were in SoHo recently, you might have walked past it  without batting an eye.  

 The spot in question is a renovated 1904 fire station that houses the New York  City Fire Museum. Located at 278 Spring Street, the museum contains old fire  apparatuses, artifacts and artwork from New York’s firefighting past from the 1700s to the present day. Its mission, according to  museum executive director Damon Campagna, is to preserve the history of  firefighting in New York City and promote fire safety. “The collection is owned by the FDNY and the people of New York City,” he says, “and we are the caretakers of that collection.”  

 The original firehouse was active from 1905 until 1959, when its company, Engine  30, was disbanded and the house was turned into the Department’s medical unit. According to Campagna, the FDNY ran its own museum in a spare  bay of a firehouse on Duane Street, but the liquidation of the Home Insurance  Company presented the Department with a unique opportunity. “Home Insurance had one of the most prestigious collections of fire-related  materials in the world and maintained their own museum on Maiden Lane,” says Campagna. “When they faced financial trouble in the 1970s, they sold some of their  collection at auction but turned the bulk over to the FDNY. At that point, the  non-profit which runs the Fire Museum now was created to raise funds to  renovate this firehouse, which was large enough to house the combined  collections.”  

 Drawing about 40,000 visitors annually, Campagna says the museum attracts a  broad mix of people, including foreign visitors. Families make up a large  portion of visitors as well. “The Fire Museum is an exciting place for kids, and for parents, we offer an  inexpensive alternative to other attractions in the city.”  

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4 Comments

  • Nebraska Firefighters Museum & Education Cente on Thursday, January 13, 2011 12:54 PM
    Fantastic!
  • Great Article! once you have put on someone else's shoes you immediately have the respect for the men and women that put there lives on the line everyday. I had a little taste of that experience back in 1964 while in basic training at the Naval Fire Fighting School. The work itself was hard, hot, and tiresome. After reading Dennis Smith's book (Report from Engine Co. 82) it was hard for me to imagine the stress and frustration along with the physical and mental anguish related to the job. I am proud of the dedicated Firemen, the Museum, and of course my #1 son Damon.
  • Terrific article! I will be visiting this museum on my next trip to NY. The article and Damon's comments sparked a deep interest in me to experience the history of the Fire Department in NY. We take so much for granted when we are not a part of the actual work of these most courageous men and women.
  • Was the Fire Patrol exhibit ever restored to the second floor where it originated? Ironically it was removed at about the same time the 203 year old NY Fire Patrol was disbanded.