To describe the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting as a big building full of old fire trucks is accurate enough, but nowhere near complete. It may sound like a tourist trap or a collector's vanity showplace, and probably for this reason, if Valleyites are aware of the facility's existence at all, they may not yet have checked it out. So be advised: The world's largest museum showcasing memorabilia and restored antique firefighting equipment is no flash in the pan. The history of firefighting, it turns out, is like the history of a thousand other narrow fields we never think about: rich, fascinating and moving.
Phoenix wasn't the museum's original home; it was founded in 1964 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by philanthropist, businessman and Chicago Cubs board member George F. Getz Jr. Getz's wife had purchased an antique fire engine for him as a unique gift, and it led to a lifelong interest. After a period of time in Kenosha, Getz's huge collection relocated to its current residence, an unprepossessing warehouse-style building on upper Van Buren.
The museum now houses beautifully restored firefighting machinery from as far back as the 1700s (!), and from as far away as Japan and Peru; and it's presented with plenty of text to put it in historical, social and political perspective. There's a remarkable restoration of a late 19th/early 20th century urban firehouse, a video theater, and the facility's newest lump-in-throat exhibit, the Hall of Heroes, a gallery of American firefighters who died in the line of duty.
Although adults will find the museum rewarding, there's plenty for the younger set to do as well. The permanent "Safety House" installation allows kids ages 4 to 11 to hunt for hidden fire hazards. Kids can also try on firefighter outfits and climb aboard a vintage fire engine. There's a cool gift shop too. And if your kid is struggling with a career decision between cowpoke and firefighter, a visit to the Hall of Flame may make the decision.
--M. V. Moorhead
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Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting's hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays; closed major holidays. Admission: $5, $4 for seniors, $3 for children ages 6 to 17, $1.50 for ages 3 to 5; free for those younger. 6101 East Van Buren. 275-3473.