12.20.2011

Daytrip: Aurora Regional Fire Museum

I had the good fortune of finding myself in front of the Aurora Regional Fire Museum (ARFM) this past Saturday, with plenty of time on my hands.

I've been meaning to drop by for a year or so, after I learned they feature some amazing gingerbread houses around the holidays. Visitors can participate in the raffle and vote for their favorite houses.

As I came in from the rear parking lot, I accessed the cute little curio shop with plenty of items for kids of all ages, and was greeted by curator David Lewis and one of Aurora's own local firefighters.

David happened onto the opportunity of working with the museum while he was still in college. He's always been a fire and fire department aficionado and this really worked out amazingly for him. He likes to say that the firemen next door have to work, while he gets to play!

David is always happy to talk to visitors of all ages and learn more about them and their expectations and reactions during their visit to the ARFM. He's an interminable source of information about anything related to fires and fire fighting history. You can tell this is his passion by the glimmer in his eye as he talks to visitors.

I had the pleasure of enjoying his knowledge as I bugged him about Ben Franklin's role in US firefighting history. I got plenty of info and was very happy to have found David to tell me so much.

I absolutely loved the different displays with amazing historical facts that I was surprised to learn. For example, did you know that once upon a time, houses with trees would not be insured or be charged astronomical premiums? This is because it was once thought that having a tree near a home would invite lightning strikes and therefore create a fire hazard risk.

The displays with fire fighter protective apparel through the years is an amazing reality check about the dangers and intensity the fire fighters have to contend with on a daily basis. The movie Backdraft always comes to mind in regards to the dangers and the courage required.

Not touching one of the three or four amazing old fire trucks that are on display, was a hard temptation to fight for me. They are immaculately maintained and showcase the different technologies and trends in fire fighting through the years.

Once I was on the second floor, up a lovely and grand staircase (festooned in holiday boughs and regalia) I was able to appreciate a special exhibit explaining how Museums archive and preserve historical artifacts. This was intensely interesting for me as I'm a museum fiend and love anything related to behind the scenes. The ARFM received a shipment of historical artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution, so it presented the perfect opportunity to instruct visitors on the process and also showcase some of these amazing, and very old, mementos.

David mentioned to me that one of the country's oldest insurance companies had initiated a spectacular collection of fire and firefigthing artifact collection, but at one point decided to get rid of it, thereby donating the entire collection to the Smithsonian. Once at the Smithsonian it was eventually consolidated into the existing artifacts, and any additional pieces were dispersed among a small number of fire history museums throughout the US. The ARFM was the recipient of several pieces which were thoguht to best fit in with their mission and existing collection.

I really enjoyed seeing the old building where the Aurora Fire Department operated for over 80 years. The equipment and displays exhibited not only Aurora's fire fighting history, but also provided a unique atmosphere to the building and location that I truly enjoyed. It helped me learn some very interesting local history tidbits.

So if you are a baker and love a challenge, why don't you try participating in their firehouse gingerbread house contest next year? They usually open the call for submissions around Thanksgiving.

Keep up with news about the contest, and any other seasonal events and happenings at the ARFM via their Facebook page. The Aurora Regional Fire Museum is located at the corner of E. New York Street and N. Broadway Street in downtown Aurora, IL (in front of Quinta de Los Reyes). Their website is located at http://www.auroraregionalfiremuseum.org/ There is no cost for entry, but they do welcome donations. If you have a group of school children that would like to visit, you are welcome to please contact David at the ARFM for all the details.

Please check out a few snapshots I captured with my cell phone during my visit.