Are you looking for something indoors to do on a wintry Saturday with the kids? Look no farther than the Buffalo Fire Museum. Run by the Buffalo Fire Historical Society, this nonprofit group has amassed a large and unique collection of fire fighting memorabilia.
Located at 1860 William Street at North Ogden in Buffalo's Lovejoy neighborhood this attraction offers an amazing free experience for the young and old alike. The museum is open on Saturday's between 10AM and 4PM, year round and by appointment.
The museum, which was spawned just after the department's 100th anniversary in 1980, was originally housed at fire headquarters downtown on Court Street. In 1982 ,the group of fire fighters and fire "buffs" who organized an anniversary display sat down to plan a formal museum. That was the forerunner of what the group has built today.
In 1993 the group was forced out of headquarters due to space constraints; that's when they found their current location in Lovejoy. The old warehouse offers easy accessibility to move apparatus and displays in and out, and enough room to hold it all. "We're getting full," states Lt. Pat Coghlan (ret.), the current Vice President of the Society as he proudly leads me through a tour of the building.
Coghlan puts on a pot of coffee us and for his daughter Margaret, who would join us later. As we saunter through the maze of displays, Coghlan proves to be a wealth of information, spewing dates and facts almost faster that I can comprehend. You get the sense he truly enjoys the sweat equity upon which the museum was built.
Some of the museum highlights include a display of fire memorabilia from Buffalo's Sister City of Kanazura, Japan, a display on the departments early days as a volunteer organization, a display acknowledging the departments role during the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, and even a replica 29th century Watch Desk with a working "joker".
The apparatus highlights include a circa 1831 hand pumper, an 1860 soda ash pumper, a 1920 Ahrens Fox, and an American LaFrance Steamer. There are collections of fire helmets, hand tools, communications equipment, first aid supplies, and fire boxes, including the infamous "Hoodoo" Box 29, the site of numerous large fires and deaths through the years. Every display and piece of memorabilia has a story behind it, willingly told by Coghlan.
For the amateur historians or former fire fighters and their families looking for information, the museum offers a complete library of books, reports, and old personnel records of past department members. They even have individual company histories from every firehouse that ever existed in the city.
The kids will enjoy donning actually fire fighting gear and taking a "ride" in the tiller simulator as well as pulling the fire alarm box and seeing what actually happens when the alarm reaches the firehouse.
The museum is run by an elected 14-member executive board and has a healthy bunch of volunteer members who pay dues and sweat equity to keep the place in tiptop shape. The museum gets its funding through those member dues, donations, and grants which keep the admission free.
"Did he talk your ear off?" quips Margaret as she removes her jacket. She joins her father and me in time to sip coffee and engage in "shop" talk. Growing up with a fire fighter for a father she knows all too well the history of the department and the workings of the museum. She has taken on the role of secretary for the society and unofficially as their chief organizer.
When asked what she gets out of her work at the museum she states, "A sense of camaraderie." You get the feeling, sitting at the table shooting the breeze, that you could easily be at the firehouse, waiting for the next call.
There truly is a ton of memorabilia and information at the museum as well as Buffalo Fire Department souvenirs for purchase (cash only). If you have questions, feel free to contact the museum by phone at 716-892-8400 or via their web site at bfhsmuseum.bfn.org.
Photos: Donald P Cialone, Jr.