October 13, 2012

A museum where history catches fire

Eyes light up, imaginations flare at Portland Fire Museum party

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Red, gleaming fire trucks, horses and bagpipers served as a draw for kids, while former firefighters got to soak up some history and swap tales at the 10th annual open house at the Portland Fire Museum.

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Senya Rogers-Kaufman, 5, of Portland checks out some antique firefighting equipment.

Photos by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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Simon Girard, 7, of Old Orchard Beach poses questions to retired Portland firefighter John “Smokey” Chandler during an open house at the Portland Fire Museum on Saturday. Alison Blow, 10, of Biddeford, pets Jim the horse.

Additional Photos Below

"I think in everyone there's a little fireman," said Bill Van Deinse, who has been a firefighter in Portland since 2004. "I always wanted to be a firefighter growing up. Doesn't everyone?"

Kids in shiny firefighter helmets watched films about Dalmatian mascots and fed treats to horses in the building's original fire-horse stalls. Also on display were a steam engine on loan from the Manchester, N.H., Fire Department, a 1938 McCann fire engine, and hand-drawn engines from the Great Portland Fire of 1866.

"It's a chance to see the history we're involved in," Van Deinse said.

Built in 1837, the Portland Fire Museum originally served as a firehouse with a girls' school and political meeting space on the second floor.

The Spring Street building is listed as a National Historic Building.

The museum's open house and block party, which drew more than 300 visitors, served as a way to promote fire safety and show off a bit of city pride, said Edward Marks, president of Portland Veteran Firemen's Association and a retired lieutenant of the Portland Fire Department.

"The reason we're here today is to promote fire prevention month, but also to share with the community our rich history and have some fun," Marks said. "The message we're trying to get across is that everyone should have two ways out of their home and have an exit plan."

The museum, which is open Wednesdays and Fridays, draws as many as 3,000 visitors throughout the year, Marks said. The museum has attracted more visitors recently by following the cruise ship schedule and opening on days a ship is in port. On Saturday, the cruise ship Jewel of the Seas, with 2,100 passengers, was in town.

"Any firefighter on a cruise ship drags his wife here," said Marks. "We help serve as ambassadors to the city of Portland."

Lou Doucet of Lewiston, who was a firefighter in Florida for 30 years, came to the musuem to see the memorabilia. He is still an active member of the Florida Antique Bucket Brigade (FABB), a club that restores old fire equipment.

"I'm definitely coming back and bringing some FABB members here. There's a lot of history here that's just amazing," Doucet said.

Meanwhile, Becky Noreus of Portland came with her family so her 4-year-old son, Jakob, could see the trucks.

"He ran right past all the firemen and just looked at the trucks. Trucks are all you think about at four," Noreus said.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Michael Daicy, archivist for the Portland Veteran Firemen’s Association, provides insight to visitors at the association’s Spring Street museum on Saturday.

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Oscar Goss, 4, of Portland talks with his mother, Stephanie, during an open house at the Portland Fire Museum on Saturday. Oscar and his family come to the Spring Street museum often, but he likes the open house because of the “neigh-neighs,” his name for the horses.

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Oscar Goss, 4, and his father, Amos, of Portland check out one of the antique fire engines during an open house at the Portland Fire Museum on Saturday.

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