The Fire Museum of Maryland is one of the largest fire museums in the United States (reported as the 5th largest actually), and is home to a world-class collection of historic hand engines.
This leading institution has a premier collection of dozens of antique fire engines and historically significant apparatus.
The mission of the Fire Museum of Maryland is to preserve the history of the urban fire service and the records of the fire service of the United States.
So if you have anyone interested in the history of fire fighting, or who would just enjoy seeing the old fire trucks, this is a good place to go.
The kid’s love seeing how vehicles used to look and comparing them to what they are used to these days. And there’s also a special room just for them so they can have fun and burn off some energy.
The museum is well-maintained and they’ve designed it with a path that leads you around:
- Various antique fire trucks from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century
- Antique toys
- Firefighting tools
- And related artifacts
As you walk around, you will see how the technology has changed over the years and a lot of the history is even specific to the Maryland area as well.
Since you’ll see plenty on Maryland fire fighting, you can bet they talk about The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 where 1,500 buildings were burned down.
We went with kids ages 10, 8 and 6. All of them had a great time and the staff was so great with them. The kids enjoyed having a firefighter tell them some stories that were easy for them to grasp.
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The antique fire trucks are beautifully restored and very well cared for.
They also have various interactive stations which really help the kids stop and learn more than just looking around.
What’s to See & Do
There is actually quite a bit to see in this museum that first opened in 1971. Not only do they have a broad range of special exhibits, there’s more you can see and do including:
- Horse-drawn vehicles
- Motorized Vehicles
- Apparatuses from hand-pulled to motorized
- Related memorabilia
- Educational tours
- Variety of special events
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Kids and interested adults will learn about:
- Techniques of the fire service
- Fire safety
- Fire prevention
- Fire equipment
What to Expect
While my 4-year-old son has had fleeting interest in trains, pirates, and other typical kid favorites, he has loved all things rescue nonstop. I had seen a fire museum on lists of museums in Baltimore, but had the sense that it was geared toward serious (adult) enthusiasts and might not be worth the drive.
But when I checked the museum’s website this summer and saw some kid-friendly activities, I decided to give it a try.
It turns out the museum’s permanent setup does have quite a bit to offer kids.
The man on staff saw the kids and immediately pointed us to the children’s room which we went and took full advantage of (more on that below).
Once out in the regular museum, we found quite a bit to check out. The trucks are all behind low ropes, and my son is old enough to know to stay behind the ropes, but it could be a challenge for younger tots.
Tip: If a museum staffer is around as you are going through the main museum, I’d suggest asking if there is anything interactive they can show your kids, such as bells to ring and call boxes to try out.
We ogled an impossibly long truck with an impossibly long ladder, checked out a display on couplings (that connect hoses to water sources), and found a table with a giant fire truck floor puzzle.
One room has antique toy fire trucks in glass cases as well as a real stretcher that you could climb on.
The Alarm Room
In the back, the Alarm room has a neat demonstration of how fire alarms worked back in the day, which is quite interesting. We were able to see a working fire alarm telegraph system which we found really fascinating.
The Fire Alarm Office exhibit covers the period from 1852 to the present, allowing visitors to see, hear, and engage with the evolution of fire communication technology.
It transports you back in time with a remarkable array of features including:
- Working instruments
- Period lighting
The Fire Museum stands out with its extensive collection of working fire alarm communication devices.
With artifacts spanning over 150 years, the museum showcases numerous telegraph registers, manual and automatic repeaters, and central fire alarm office-specific technology.
It is also home to period furniture and lighting to create an immersive historical experience.
Children’s Discovery Room
When we entered the warehouse-like museum, a friendly staffer told us about the Discovery Room geared toward kids.
As we headed toward it, my son’s eyes lit up at all the old fire trucks parked inside the main museum, and he was drawn to a mannequin decked out in full gear (breathing mask, helmet, boots, coat).
As soon as we stepped into the Discovery Room, my son suited up in one of the more than 20 firefighter outfits (boots, coat, helmet). It was great to have so many outfits there so there was no waiting for a turn to dress up.
The other kids in the room and my son all piled into an actual antique truck, which was clearly the room’s highlight. A mural of a city scene is on the wall in front of the truck, which became part of the pretend play.
Carpeted stairs make for an easy entry into the truck. The steering wheel actually turns the wheels, and a not-too-loud bell can be rung.
After lots of climbing around on the back of the truck, taking turns driving, and pretending to hook up imaginary hoses to the truck’s hose connectors, I got my son to take a look around the rest of the room.
The room is quite spacious, and was not crowded on our Friday morning visit. A large wooden truck that kids can climb on attracted younger kids. A glass case holding a model of a town with some toy trucks seemed like a fun interactive.
You press a button and audio declares there’s a fire and you can press buttons to decide how to call in the fire and which vehicles should respond. But not all of the buttons worked.
The Children’s Discovery Room also has a:
- Train table
- bookshelf with fire-themed books
- Plastic bin filled with random fire trucks of all sizes
- Large chalkboard
- Standalone fire truck seat and steering wheel
- Small ride on fire truck
- TV with volume set low playing some footage of past museum events and fire trucks
The children definitely loved the kid’s room that was designed just for them.
The highlight was definitely the full-size fire truck and all the dress-up clothes so they could pretend to be real fire fighters.
During the summer, in July and August, the Fire Museum of Maryland also has activities just for kids every weekday they are open at 11am. There is no additional cost to participate in these activities.
The free program we attended included some safety info and a pretend rescue (kids strapped on pretend air tanks and rescued parents trapped in a room) as well as a mini tour.
We got to touch some things behind rope we wouldn’t have otherwise touched and got to see how call boxes worked when they were in use.
Fire Engine Rides
I’m not sure there could be anything more exciting for a kid than to ride in a fire engine. On some Saturdays, the museum offers fire engine rides for only $5 per person.
The Fire Museum of Maryland offers tours for both kids and adults.
There are a number of adult tours available with a variety of topics including:
- The Great Baltimore Fire
- Decorative arts
- Fire alarm in the working telegraph office
- And others
The museum offers private tours that are perfect for families with kids of all ages.
Let’s take a look at some of the exciting activities included:
- The Bucket Brigade activity: Get ready to ring bells, pass buckets, yell “Fire,” and giggle as you learn about fire safety. Surrounded by gleaming fire engines, students get a hands-on experience while understanding the importance of fire prevention.
- The Great Baltimore Fire program: Students are guided through the museum’s exhibits dedicated to the Great Baltimore Fire and the 1871 Fire House. They’ll examine primary documents, see the actual engines that fought the Great Fire, and view original footage by Thomas Edison.
- The Electricity Lab: Students explore how electricity flows through a circuit. They’ll have the opportunity to build their own working telegraph key and learn about the practical applications of this technology in emergency situations.
- The Forest Vs. Flame program: Students dive into the world of wildfires, discovering why they start, how they spread quickly, and how firefighters respond to these natural disasters.
- The Chemistry Lab: Children use a chemical reaction of baking soda and vinegar to spray water from a water bottle. It’s a fantastic way to demonstrate the power of simple chemical reactions while having a great time.
- The Science of Fire Safety program: This STEM-based experience delves into the science of fire itself. Students explore different ways to put out fires, learn about fire prevention, and understand how to stop them from happening in the first place.
Tickets for adults are $15 and kids ages 2 to 18 are only $7.
The museums hosts and attends various events throughout the year so it’s definitely worth watching their event calendar or Facebook page to see what they have coming up.
Living History Saturdays
If you visit the museum every fourth Saturday of the month, you’re in for a treat.
From 11 AM to 12 PM and 1 PM to 2 PM, museum staff and occasional guests dress up in attire from different periods, bringing history to life. Engage in interactive activities and join informative discussions to learn about the past in a fun and engaging way.
The best part? It’s included in your regular admission, so there’s no extra charge!
Holiday Train Garden
The Fire Museum of Maryland holds a special tradition that dates back over a century.
They believe Captain Eugene Daly, who worked for Engine Co. 28 in Baltimore City, was the first person to create a Christmas Train Garden over 100 years ago. Over time, the Gardens expanded as steam-powered fire engines were replaced by motorized apparatus.
Today, the museum operates an annual train garden with multiple trains, local businesses, a “working fire,” and even a subway.
The Train Garden opens on the Saturday following Thanksgiving and runs every Saturday until New Year’s Eve, so mark your calendars!
This family-friendly event allows you to see fire apparatus in a new light, with etched glass signal lamps and kerosene lanterns illuminating the exhibits.
Additionally, you can interact with reenactors dressed in period attire, adding an extra touch of historical authenticity to the evening.
Antique Car Show
Every year, the Fire Museum of Maryland hosts the Chesapeake Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) for an impressive antique car show.
This event features a display of classic and custom vehicles, trucks, motorcycles, and even police and military vehicles.
If you appreciate automotive history and craftsmanship, this is a must-visit event at the museum.
Maryland STEM Festival
During this event, they will showcase their new STEM program, The Science of Fire Safety, by conducting engaging experiments.
The festival is open to all visitors, and participation is included with your regular admission to the museum.
No registration is required, so do visit and explore the world of science and firefighting.
Hours & When to Go
The museum is open Saturdays from 10am-4pm. They are closed all other days from September to May.
During the summer months (June through August), they have extended hours and are also open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.
We spent about two hours at the museum (about 45 minutes of that was the free program we attended).
If you plan on visiting during the week, they do host camps and field trips so it may be worth a call ahead of time to see if any large groups are scheduled for the time you plan on visiting.
During our visit there was a birthday party going on for a 12-year-old boy and they all looked like they were having a lot of fun. It’s something I’d consider for my train-loving son.
Besides the party rentals, I thought is was really cool that they offer antique vehicle rentals. And while you wouldn’t rent this just to roam around town, how neat would this be to rent for a wedding or other special event?
Good to Know Before You Go
- The days the museum is open change throughout the year, so check the website for days and times.
- The museum is closed to walk-in visitors from January 1 through April 30.
- There is no café on site. A few picnic tables are in front of the entrance. A sign posted near the Discovery Room listed nearby eateries, including Friendly’s.
- Fire truck strollers, like those I’ve seen at the mall, are available for use and may be helpful for keeping little ones from pulling on or going under the ropes.
- They have birthday parties available
Getting There & Parking
The Fire Museum of Maryland is located at 1301-R York Road, Timonium, MD 21093 in Baltimore County.
Not far off the highway, the museum is behind some businesses off a main road.
There is ample free parking in a lot right next to the museum.
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