Exploring the Past: The Houston Fire Museum by Herman Pinglia

2403 Milam St
Houston, TX 77006

April 2004–Houston’s downtown, though not the largest and most illustrious in the nation has much to offer. Alive with energy and rich in diversity, Houston is a dynamic mix of imagination, talent and first-class attractions that makes it a world-class city. Home to a vibrant economy, beautiful surroundings and a population full of optimism and spirit, it’s no wonder that Houston is a popular international destination. It is home to a tremendous number of tourist sites, venues and museums. Yes, museums! People still go to these. Houston has a unique museum district offering a range of museums, galleries, art and cultural institutions.

One museum that is most often overlooked by visitors to Houston and even fellow Houstonians is the Houston Fire Museum. Located at 2403 Milam Street in the heart of Midtown Houston, it is considered to be one of the most significant organizations in Houston. I personally was not aware that Houston had such a magnificent museum. Restored Station 7 houses the museum today. The museum itself was established in 1982 with an aspiration to promote and educate the public in fire and life safety. And nowadays especially, the museum pays tribute and remembers the paid and volunteer firefighters who led the way from the first bucket brigades to those who are still leading with some of today’s most advanced tools and training techniques.

The Houston Fire Museum is supported by memberships to its organization, grants, contributions, and most importantly the help of volunteers that give back to there community by providing there time to be at the museum to read books to children on tours, show them around the fire trucks, making sure that everyone is safe and certainly making sure that these kids are learning and having fun. In addition to being a volunteer firefighter, I myself have signed up to volunteer which helps not just give back to there community by fighting fires and saving lives, but by teaching others how they can save their own or even the lives of others. For example, at my fire station we often have PR’s that range from doing a station tour to taking the truck out to some event. Particularly at the station tours we teach the children about what to do in case of a fire and to the parents we stress the importance of having a family evacuation plan so that everyone gets out safely. This truly is a remarkable organization which operates on a non-profit ideology.

Every year tens of thousands of visitors, mostly younger school students and Boy or Girl Scout troops and senior citizens come to the preserved station to embark on a journey into the past over 100 years ago. Upon entering the museum you are flabbergasted by so much “stuff” that you don’t know where to begin this nostalgic journey back into the good ole days. The museum is comprised of vintage fire trucks, century old leather fire buckets and helmets along with a vast array of photos of Houston firefighters and fires. These century old helmets were cast from aluminum and didn’t have many of the special features we have today like, poly carbonate face shields, leather head cushioning, and ratcheting head piece for snugg fit. A new exhibit that is making its debut in February of 2004 is the Locker Room which is supposed to be a completely sensory experience. Individual lockers will contain artifacts, documents, photos, etc to display life at a typical Houston fire station. Most intriguing is one exhibit of hearing a shower running and a firefighter singing a tune from that time period and then the tone drops of a fire and the sounds of firefighters scrambling to slide down the long metal pole and board on to the steam powered trucks. Truly remarkable is this one which so easily places you into that station and being able to picture all that is going on.

The station is quite remarkable and the feature it has is genuinely one of a kind, but from my experience I felt something was lacking. While visiting the museum there was a 20 person group tour going on simultaneously which made things like maneuvering in and around and taking all that this now seemingly undersized museum has to offer rather difficult and a little annoying. Not that I hate kids or anything but they were off the wall and were very difficult to control by the group’s chaperones as well as the museum staff. This two bay station that housed seven firefighters might have comfortable for them, but to accommodate the general public and large tour groups the museum is plain just too small. To make matters worse I think the air conditioning was broken. So in addition to there being way too many people inside there was not enough air to circulate which made feel kind off uneasy. I tried not to let it get to me too much because I was in the presence of some really interesting things. The benefit of this museum as opposed to other kind is the availability to ask questions and most favorable for me is that u can touch the objects. Running my fingers over the cracking axe gave me a real image of a firefighter donned in Nomex bunker gear with no air pack on a soggy roof with fire jutting through while he gasps for oxygen and keeps his balance to make a much needed hole in order to improve visibility to fight the demon monster inside the house. NFPA and OSHA do not allow fire stations to use poles but sliding down the one at the museum was an adventure in itself. The vintage trucks below gleaming in the light though not useful to us today still has place in the hearts of all fire fighters because this is all they had back in the day. And another disappointing result is after years of remodeling and modernizing the building it has obscured some of the buildings most charming features.

A lot of that is going to change fortunately as the Houston Fire Museum launches a nine million dollar project to construct a state of the art museum. This new and improved museum will be located at Hadley and Main Street, just two blocks from the current museum, which in result will restore old Station 7 to its original glory. The new museum will have 15 bays to house vintage equipment along with thousands and thousands of square feet for exhibits. In today’s age of computers and technology kids respond well to interactive exhibits that let them entice themselves with computers and online games. In the front grounds there will be a bronzed statue of a fire fighter raising his axe in a critical moment in a fire battle. And to remember those 343 men and women who so bravely gave there lives to protect others, a memorial will made to honor those who we lost on September 11th with nine girders from New York City’s World Trade Center.

There are many things to see and feel when you visit the Houston Fire Museum and learning is a big pat of that visit. Along with all the benefits the museum has to offer its impact is stunted because of its size and location which inhibits expansion. So with the help of city planners and many other entities a new Houston Fire Museum will be built to meet the demand of the growing generations to come. It is important for parents to educate their children and by taking them to the museum they learn about safety and have fun all in one spot. I encourage all to make at least one trip to the museum especially if you have kids. Just try not to go when there is a Boy Scout tour there.

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Links:

Houston Fire Museum

Museums

Midtown Houston

World Trade Center

Fires

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