Last weekend we drove up to St. Paul for grandson Harry’s third birthday party. I have a natural suspicion of children’s birthday parties, having been both a host and guest so many times over the years. In fact, it is a point of pride in my life that I have never stepped foot in a Chuck-E-Cheese, and hope to be able to put that on my tombstone.
But Harry’s parents hosted a birthday party at The Firefighters Hall and Museum that was fun for kids and adults alike. About twelve kids and their parents arrived at a one-story brick building in Northeast Minneapolis for the noon party. We were met by a volunteer who ushered us into the meeting room, which is rented out for various gatherings. It has a small kitchen, where we hid the birthday cake, decorated with a fire truck, of course.
In the corner of the room was a big box of toy cars, trains and such, and on the floor were play rugs decorated with roads and railroad tracks. The kids made a beeline for the toys, and it was then that the only crying of the day was heard. It seems there was a bridge, which had a siren that wailed when a toy car was sent over it. Well, who wouldn’t fight over that?
Pizza was delivered from Pizza Luce (adult pizza, but with a good selection of cheese pizzas for the kids), and people ate as they arrived. When nearly everyone had arrived and had eaten, the volunteer ushered us all into a smaller room fitted with bleachers on which we arranged ourselves. The volunteer opened the doors of a dollhouse, showing us several rooms. He then began a fire safety talk, asking the kids questions along the way. There was one older girl who raised her hand at every question, and usually had the right answer, too. She was the one chosen to demonstrate “Stop, Drop, and Roll” to the rest of the kids, who watched with fascination. Harry, not to be outdone, also raised his hand at every question, sometimes using only three fingers, trying out his new answer to “How old are you?” He didn’t know all the answers, but gave it a good stab.
The volunteer took us through the doll house, showing us such things as too many plugs in an electrical outlet, an unattended pot on the stove, and unwatched candles, which he said could burst into flames. To illustrate what would happen, he pushed a button, and smoke came curling out of the danger zone. Oohs and aahs all around, even from the adults.
He then used the buttons to show what happened to smoke when it filled a room or a house—it rises. So, he said, the thing to do is to stay near the floor and crawl to safety. Even firefighters do that, he said. It was a good lesson.
Next we moved on to tour the collection of fire trucks and equipment. There was a fire wagon that had been pulled by men, one pulled by horses, a steam engine—with a great siren that the chief got to operate with a crank. A truck with a crank start was a novelty for all of us. In another room, the kids sat down on benches, and the volunteer gave them a short course on fighting fires, starting with the kids being the bucket brigade. When he asked what houses were made of in the pioneer days, Harry raised his hand and opined that houses were blue, which although not the answer the volunteer was looking for, was appreciated nonetheless. Perhaps a real fire would have sped the bucket brigade up a little, but the attention of some of the smaller kids tended to waver.
They got to climb up on a huge truck, sit in a cab and watch a video of fighting fires, and then the real fun began—sliding down the fire pole.
As they took turns, the volunteer told a story about Minneapolis Fire Station #10, that had as a mascot a cat, named Mickey, who could slide down the fire pole and rode to fires in the Chief’s car. A movie of the cat in action—Mascot Mickey, Chief of Cats, Chases Fires, Instead of Rats!—was created as a newsreel in 1935, and can now be seen on YouTube at Mickey, the Firefighting Cat.
One of the displays that I liked, but which didn’t catch the attention of the younger kids, was what happened in the fire station when someone set off one of those old red fire alarm boxes you used to see on buildings and telephone poles. It would set off a light at the fire station, which showed the location of the fire box. When the fire fighters arrived at the fire, they could teletype back to the station whether they needed help. The message was just a series of dots, but two dots followed by eleven others meant they needed more fire units from around the city. And the fire box had to be reset by hand by the firefighter.
The kids livened up when we went outside, where they tried their hands at squirting water at a board with holes in it from which painted flames erupted. When they had run off enough steam, we all went out in front of the building, where the kids got to ride around several city blocks in a restored fire truck, siren wailing. Once back at the museum, we had birthday cake, and then went home to take a nap.
It’s a long trip for a party, but check out the Bill and Bonnie Daniels (he was fire chief for many years) Firefighters Hall and Museum, 664 22nd Ave NE, Minneapolis. You might want to call for hours at 612-623-3817. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for kids, and it is worth it. All the kids got suckers as they left, to the dismay of many of the parents, who had already seen the beginning of a serious sugar high after the cake was consumed. But the kids were riding high on more than sugar.