Little-known Fire Museum is a real gem

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Carol Sorgen

Visitors to the Fire Museum of Maryland in Lutherville get a ride in an antique Stutz fire engine, which were first manufactured in 1919. This one was used in Havre de Grace to help combat fire.
Photo courtesy of the Fire Museum of Maryland

Thanks to the late Stephen G. Heaver’s fascination with firefighting apparatus (the term fire fighters use for their customized vehicles), Baltimore has the distinction of housing the third largest fire museum in the United States. Located in Lutherville, the Fire Museum of Maryland, founded in 1971, is a leader in preserving, restoring and interpreting the history of the urban fire service in the U.S.

Heaver, a builder and developer who died in 1998, amassed a world-class collection of historic hand-pumped engines, as well as horse-drawn, steam powered and motorized vehicles. According to his Baltimore Sun obituary, Heaver was fascinated by fire trucks since he was a child, often sitting on the curb near his Roland Park home to see the trucks leave the fire station that was around the corner.

He bought his first piece of fire equipment — a 1928 American LaFrance pumper — in 1962 from the Hereford Volunteer Fire Department for less than $500. Nine years later he founded the museum, which today is run by his son, also named Stephen G. Heaver. The museum has grown to house one of the country’s most complete collections of firefighting history.

The elder Heaver’s next purchase was a 1922 Ahrens-Fox pumper, the “Rolls Royce of fire engines,” that originally was assigned to the North Eutaw Street station. He bought it from the Baltimore City Fire Department for $250 and took six years to restore it.

By 1969, the enthusiastic collector owned 13 classic motorized fire vehicles, some of which he parked on the side of his home.

“Some people collect antique cars,” said Amy Landsman, membership and rentals director. “When it came to size, this was collecting on a much larger scale!”

For kids and adults alike

Today, the museum’s exhibits include not only the vehicles, but firefighting tools, antique toys, photographs and memorabilia from the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, a working telegraph office, and a children’s “Discovery Room” where children can dress up as mini-firefighters themselves.

“There is something here to catch everyone’s attention,” said Landsman. “It’s so much more than just a history of firefighting. It’s a history of America, of changing technology, developing communities, even decorative arts.”

The firefighting vehicles tell the story of firefighting in America from 1806 to the present. Many of the restored apparatus are working road vehicles. Among the highlights of the collection are an 1856 Agnew hand engine, 1899 American steamer, 1905 Hale water tower, 1918 Mack “Bulldog” ladder truck, 1922 Ahrens-Fox pumping engine, and a 1947 Mack Floodlight Wagon.

The museum’s newest exhibit features a large collection of fire-themed prints, as well as early 20th-century toys donated by the McLaughlin Company, an insurance agency in Rockville, Md.

The museum has a large archive and library with over 13,000 documents, catalogs, photographs, negatives and books. The museum’s research director Melissa Heaver can provide custom research and historical documentation of local firefighters.

Landsman observed that many visitors to the museum have their own memorabilia at home — whether from family members who were firefighters or from their own collections — and said that the museum is happy to receive donations.

Visiting the museum

The museum is open year-round on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In June, July and August, it is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tours for children, adults, seniors and special needs adults can be arranged by appointment. Adult tours include Early Firefighting Technology; Life in an 1871 Fire House; The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904; “Isn’t That Lady Liberty?” (which focuses on the tradition of decorating apparatus); and Fire Alarm Telegraph Office. For adults who cannot come to the museum, outreach programs are available (including fire engine rides).

Admission fees are: $14 ($12 for those 62 and over and firefighters); $6 for children 2-12. Children under 2 are admitted free.

Memberships are also available. Especially popular, according to Landsman, is the annual family membership for $75 (family includes two adults or grandparents and children/grandchildren under 18).

Upcoming special events at the museum include:

May 6: 40th Annual Steam Show, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

May 19: Members Only Night, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

July 8: Antique Car Show, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

September 9: Honoring Our Heroes, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

October 28: Lantern Night, from 6 to 8 p.m.

November 25: Opening of the Holiday Train Garden

For more information on the Fire Museum of Maryland, call (410) 321-7500 or visit www.firemuseummd.org.