HUDSON, N.Y. -- Some times, a world-class museum can be found in the most out-of-the-way place. This is the case of the Museum of Firefighting, on the grounds of the firemen's retirement home in this small town west of the Massachusetts border. Both were established by FASNY, the Firemen's As sociation of the State of New York, which represents the volunteers who make up most of the state's firefighters.
From the original 2,600-square-foot building founded in 1925 with a donation of four engines, the museum has grown to more than 50,000 square feet and now houses more than 90 pieces of apparatus from different fire companies from 1725 - the oldest documented engine in New York -- to the 1970s. Hand-carried and horse-drawn wooden equipment sits alongside steam powered pumpers, long ladder trucks and gleaming retro 20th-century fire trucks in traditional red and unexpected cream and bright yellow.
Artifacts include wooden fire rattles, uniforms and breathing gear, helmets, hats, insignias and axes. The visual history of firefighting is portrayed in artworks displaying dramatic firefighting scenes and legendary heroes, as well as vintage photographs of prized equipment and proud fire companies.
Museum director Jamie Smith Quinn said that some visitors liken the elaborate parade carriages, with their intricate oil-painted panels and glittering silver and glass adornments, to Cinderella's carriage. A favorite ladder truck of hers - the futuristic Art Deco 1939 LaFrance model -- was known in its time as "The Ugly American."
During her seven years as museum director, Quinn has expanded the informative website and added hands-on opportunities for families with small children to engage with the exhibits.
"They love to put on the fireman's jacket -- we have turnout gear for both adults and children - and sit on the trucks and play," she explained.
"There's something for everyone," she said. "There's just so many different layers."
One of the most anticipated events of the year is the annual Dalmatian Day, attracting thousands of visitors to celebrate those splendid spotted dog mascots of many fire departments. On Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., families can get in free and watch a magic show by Marvin the Magnificent, take a trip through the Columbia County Safety House, and meet plenty of polka-dotted pooches. The day also brings a fire-prevention puppet show, Dal matian-themed games, giveaways and prizes.
It didn't take long for rookie Firemen's Home resident George Jasberg, 80, to offer his time to the museum. He said he served as a volunteer firefighter in Long Island, N.Y., for more than 40 years -- including two decades as an active responder. He now introduces the museum's extensive collections to local schoolchildren, families and visitors "from faraway lands" including Germany, Hol land, Poland and England.
He is a self-proclaimed apparatus buff like his father. Together, they would visit a nearby firehouse while waiting for his mother to finish shopping, he said.
Along with the fresh country air and Catskill Mountains view, Jasberg takes great pleasure in seeing young children react to the interactive displays, from the joining the bucket brigade -- where they throw buckets of balls through a window to "extinguish" a fire -- to brandishing a baton and marching in time to lively parade music.
When it comes to the exhibits, "it's very hard to have a favorite if you're into the history of fire equipment," he explained -- although he particularly ad mires the Ahrens Fox rigs, widely regarded as "the Rolls-Royce of fire pumpers."
Interactive narratives on the history of firefighting through the ages detail the evolution of today's modern fire service, while banners hanging from the walls represent just a fraction of the more than 2,000 fire companies serving the state of New York.
From the smallest toy fire engine to the largest ladder truck, the Museum of Fire fighting honors all those brave men and women, perhaps in spiring the next generation to answer the alarm bells of their own communities.
What: Museum of Firefighting
Where: 117 Harry Howard Ave., Hudson, N.Y.
When: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed major holidays
Admission: Free on Saturday with a National Museum Day downloadable ticket, and on Saturday,
Oct. 6, for families on Dalmatian Day.
Regular admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children 5 and older, and free for ages 4 and under, or $10 for a family of four
For a free ticket on Saturday: www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday
Information: (877) 347-3687, (518) 822-1875, www.fasnyfiremuseum.com