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 drive from our southern Montgomery County house to Lutherville (north of Baltimore), took an hour. Not far off the highway, the museum is behind some businesses off a main road. 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 room also has a train table; a bookshelf with fire-themed books; a plastic bin filled with random fire trucks of all sizes; a large chalkboard; a standalone fire truck seat and steering wheel; a small ride on fire truck; and a TV with volume set low playing some footage of past museum events and fire trucks. Before leaving the room, my son convinced me to shell out 51 cents for a squished penny as a souvenir.
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. 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 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.
After a little more browsing around on our own and looking at a small gift shop area by the entrance, we headed out — with plans for a return trip in the future.
- 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. Admission is $12 adults; $10 seniors and firefighters; $5 ages 2-18; and free for children under
- We spent about two hours at the museum (about 45 minutes of that was the free program we attended). 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.
- 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.
- There is ample free parking in a lot right next to the museum.
Photos by Kathleen Seiler Neary.