Monday, October 24, 2011
Third Grade Bliss: The First Field Trip
Today I was treated to a third grade field trip. Mr. Mattson, 19 kids, and 8 parents walked the 8 blocks to the Spring Street Firehouse Museum. The museum was chock full of cool stuff that threw me into the depths of New York City history in a far stronger way than I imagined it would while crossing 7th Avenue South with so many squirming kids. Turns out, the treasures were indisputable: painstakingly preserved hand-painted helmets from the 1800s; embroidered belts used for fancy dress during parades; original buckets used in the first "bucket brigades"; stovetop hats for helmets? Really?
The Firemen that run the museum were walking history books and knew how to tap into the kids' collective mentality without blinking an eye. The class sat for a video about fire safety (um, I will be doing a fire drill and checking the batteries in my fire alarms, which everyone should be changing twice a year, "when you change your clocks", according to Mr. Eddie, retired Fire Lt.? Colonel? Captain?). Then they got to go inside of a fake apartment where they identified all kinds of unsafe things, including space heaters near billowy curtains and irons plugged in near bathtubs. From there, they got to make their way through a real fake fire made from a heavy fog that had somehow been emitted into the atmosphere! They dropped to their knees and crawled along the perimeter of the room until they found their way to the exit. Once out, they stayed at their designated "meeting place", which we should all also determine in our own personal fire plans.
The history of urban life can be seen in the progression of the fire trucks themselves. We moved from the first Bucket Brigades to hand pumps drawn by horses; moved from steam controlled pumps to, finally, trucks with engines. There was even a gorgeous carriage stamped with "Steinway" that Mr. Steinway himself had commissioned to protect his early workers in his Queens piano factory.
The charmer of the day was the stuffed dog "Chief" who was taken into a firehouse and wormed his way first into the hearts of the firemen, then onto the trucks, and finally, into the fires themselves where he rescued animals and people alike. A real canine hero (shown above). In the same room was a painting of three firefighters who lost their lives in a rudimentary house fire on Watt Street in 1994. A woman had carelessly let a bag of groceries fall onto her stove. The man in the middle was Mr. Mattson's High School football coach, and it being a Catholic School, he paused to say a Hail Mary with the children for his lost mentor.
This was just a precursor to further tragedy: the 9/11 room honored the 343 firemen who lost their lives on that day, in a 102-minute period, a fact I hadn't known so specifically before. The photography of that day surrounded an arched memorial, which featured faces of all of the fallen. Most moving of all was the uniform of Father Judge, which hung behind glass, still covered in soot. From the fire safety education to the history to the remembrance of lost heroes, this field trip packed a wallop of an impact.