My friend Remy's young son, Charlie, is obsessed with cars. He gapes at them as they pass by. He thinks trucks are even better - they elicit cheers and squeals. But there's one vehicle that Charlie places above all others: the fire engine. When I walked into the main room of the North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum, all I could think was that to three-year-old Charlie, the place would be something like heaven.
The museum houses a collection of fire engines (or enjins as the earliest ones are called) dating from 1785-1969. These are not replicas or models but actual fire engines. All but the two of the earliest models are still capable of putting out a fire. The more modern trucks' red paint is polished to a pristine shine.
The earliest firefighting apparatus in the collection is the 1785 Richard Mason Hand Fire "Enjin," which was used in Charleston and operated by 33 slaves.
The 1958 GMC Snorkel represents an advance in firefighting equipment. By modifying a commercial tree trimming truck, GMC created the Snorkel, whose articulated boom helped firefighters get a better angle on multiple-story fires.
The museum also offers top-notch educational exhibits on fire safety - top-notch because they are the kind of exhibits that are so fun that kids don't realize that they are supposed to be "educational." Kids also are given the chance to "drive" a fire truck in a virtual reality simulator.
Make sure that you take the time to talk to one of the docents at the museum. Many of the staff are retired firefighters and are happy to answer any questions about their profession.
The museum is located by the entrance to the Tanger Outlet Mall and is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and teens and free for children 12 and younger.