NY State Museum keeps firefighting history alive

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ALBANY, NY (WENY) — From the 19th to the 20th century, Elmira was the fire engine capital of the world. Today, its historical innovation is kept alive at the New York State Museum by a team of curators.

There are five fire engines from Elmira, the oldest dating back to 1919. The engines were all made in Elmira from the manufacturers, American La-France and Ward La-France. They were later sold to a variety of fire companies.

Each of them is different in make and purpose, but they all share one thing–their role in Elmira’s history.

“They all represent different levels of technology, the evolution of firefighting, and help tell that story,” said Brad Utter, curator and senior historian at the NYS Museum.

One of the rarest artifacts in the exhibit is the 1926 water tower, which helped firefighters get water into the windows of tall buildings. According to Utter, there are not many of its kind today.

The fire trucks are wheeled into the museum through what are called elephant doors. Some are even driven in. The museum does not physically operate the artifacts today. But in theory, Utter said, all of the engines should still work.

“All the parts are there,” he said.

To help preserve the vehicles, every other month, a team of curators dusts and applies any other needed refurbishment. Additionally, all of the artifacts are held up by a jack, to keep the tires from deflating.

“It’s also important that we have them, and we preserve them because they’re so large. And so not many places can do that,” said Utter.


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