North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum
Although the name is a mouthful, it is one that reflects the unique partnership between the city that built and owns the museum and the corporation that owns the fire trucks displayed inside. Officially known as the “North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Educational Center,” the fire museum combines the City of North Charleston’s vision of fire prevention and safety with one of America’s oldest fire apparatus manufactures, American LaFrance. From our childhood days, many of us have been enthralled with fire trucks. We admire the firefighters, we aspire to become them and we are still thrilled with the sight of these modern marvels on the road. The fire museum capitalizes on those feelings and is more than a garage of antique fire trucks. It is an interesting exhibit, yes, but it has excellent educational value, presented in a fascinating context.
Located in North Charleston, S.C., the museum not only gives a perspective of the history of municipal fire fighting, but an educational process for all visitors is beautifully woven in the museum’s artifacts and exhibits. This is one of the finest fire museums in the country, housing 18 American LaFrance fire trucks that represent more than a century of American LaFrance’s fire engines. The museum, located within the growing Centre Pointe area adjacent to the Tanger Outlet Center, was built specifically to fit the nearly 20 vehicles housed within. Each apparatus on display, dating from 1857 through today, has been fully restored and still capable of being driven and used to fight fire.
Beginning with the early 1800s and fire apparatus of that day, it is easy to see how fire fighting and its vital importance to our lives have progressed over the years. The fire safety education exhibits are incomparable, designed to not only teach our visitors about the history of fire fighting and educate them on methods of the prevention of home hazards, but to also provide entertainment for our younger visitors while they experience the thrill of flying down a pole and learning smart ways to exit a burning building. Aside from the collection of antique fire trucks, the 26,500-square-foot museum houses a 40-seat movie theater that shows films about the history of fire fighting and several other interactive hands-on exhibits. For example, in an exhibit on a stage depicting a typical modern home with a kitchen, bedroom and living room, the dangers of home fires are excellently presented. A grandmother answers a doorbell, momentarily forgetting to turn down the burner on the stove with disastrous results. The dangers of kerosene heaters, cluttered garages, fireplaces and improperly cared for appliances are demonstrated using live smoke and an interactive video presentation.
Children can spend hours climbing up and sliding out of the Great Escape exhibit which shows how to exit a house in case of a fire. After a few rounds on the Great Escape, children can read panels on fire safety and play question-and-answer games. Adults and children alike are able to push a nozzle on different size hoses to test the pressure of rushing water, or tug a rope and try to lift 70 pounds of firefighter equipment. They also can spend a moment reading about great fires from the past.
In addition to the museum’s educational and entertaining exhibits visitors are given the opportunity to experience driving a life size fire engine. The Fire Truck Simulator is a simulation of a fire department’s response to an alarm. The person in the driver’s seat touches a screen that starts the scenario. He starts the engine, and it sounds very real. Immediately the seats vibrate, similar to the real thing. The windshield shows downtown traffic with the truck streaking to the scene. The driver touches the horn button. It works! The left foot can press two different pedals for a siren and the LOUD horn. As you “drive,” it is truly a thrilling experience.
The Fire Museum is a great experience for kids of all ages, boys and girls. School classes and other groups are welcome. Children 12 and under get in free, adults pay $6 admission. For details, call (843) 740-5550 or visit www.legacyofheroes.org
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