New York City Fire Museum, a Hidden Gem, Presents Iconic Photo Exhibition

A hidden gem for history buffs, the New York City Fire Museum should not be missed by anyone who is interested in New York City’s Bravest and Best. A temporary exhibition Firehouse: The Photography of Jill Freedman opens to the public on October 12th this year showcasing award-winning photographer Jill Freedman’s moving collection of photographs documenting New York City firefighters on the job in the ‘70s. 

The New York City Fire Museum’s roots date back to 1870 when it was established in the headquarters of the Fire Commissioners at 155 Mercer Street. Over the next century, the Museum would move to different locations before opening its doors in 1987 at the former quarters of Engine Company No. 30, in a beautiful 1904 Beaux-Arts firehouse on Spring Street, where it is still located. 


The Museum’s permanent displays highlight the history of firefighters in New York, illustrating the evolution of firefighting from the bucket brigades of Peter Stuyvesant’s New Amsterdam through the colorful history of volunteer firefighters to modern firefighting techniques and equipment. The Museum also houses a special memorial to the 343 members of the FDNY who made the Supreme Sacrifice on 9/11 and features a number of firefighting artifacts recovered from the World Trade Center site. Special temporary exhibitions are on display in addition. 

Manufactured by Pine and Hartshorn, this hose reel was used by Astoria Hose Company No. 8 of the Long Island City Fire Department, which became part of the FDNY in 1898. This reel uses 4-wheel steering and a patented running gear which enables the carriage to make tighter turns.

Manufactured by American La France, “Type 75” 700 GPM motorized pumpers were the principal rigs to replace FDNY’s horse-drawn pumpers. The first set arrived in 1917, and, by the late 1920s, almost every engine company was equipped with one.

This 1901 La France coal-fired steam engine was horse drawn and could pump 700 gallons per minute. Steam powered pumpers were not widely accepted by the volunteer fire department, but became standard when the paid department was established in 1865.

This “hybrid” pumper, a coal-fired steam engine drawn by a gas powered front-drive tractor, illustrates the transition from horse-drawn to motorized apparatus. The steamer was a well proven technology and the FDNY was not willing to completely risk safety on a relatively new technology. 

Copyright: NYC Fire Museum


The temporary exhibition Firehouse: The Photography of Jill Freedman opens to the public on October 12th, 2022 and will go through April 12, 2023. The exhibition features a selection of images contained in Freedman’s book, Firehouse, which was released in 1977 and garnered rave reviews highlighting their honesty and grit that captured the danger, tragedy, heroism, and camaraderie of being a firefighter in New York City.

Photos of NYC Firefighters by Jill Freedman from her book Firehouse (1977)
Photo credit: “The Jill Freedman Irrevocable Trust”


To celebrate the new exhibition with a special community event, the New York City Fire Museum will host “A Night at the FDNY Museum” on Thursday, November 3 from 6:00 to 9:00 PM, including a private exhibition viewing, light fare, an open beer and wine bar, raffle prizes, a silent auction, and more.

“The New York City Fire Museum is a unique place to learn more about the history of our city’s greatest heroes, and we are so excited to be displaying Jill Freedman’s outstanding photography,” said Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the New York City Fire Museum. “Freedman created a visual story that captures an important piece of New York City history, and most importantly, she showed the humanity of firefighters through their day-to-day struggles and triumphs. Our special event, ‘The Night at the FDNY Museum’, on November 3rd will be a unique experience to celebrate Freedman’s work and our brave firefighters.”

Photo credit: Jill Freedman


The images in the exhibition include close-ups of the firefighter and action shots at the scene of a fire. CNN once described the photographs as “images that describe a community of men in their full humanity, heroic but not just heroes. Pictures of terrible danger meet moments of rough tenderness, then all gives way to goofball antics back at the station.” 

To create this display of heroism and heart, Freedman lived among the firefighters in the Bronx and Harlem for more than a year as she chronicled their work. She followed groups for six days at a time, working 12-hour shifts, then going home to develop the negatives in her dark room, before returning to the firehouse for another shift.

The Jill Freedman Estate is publishing an updated version of Firehouse to be available during the exhibition along with videos of Jill’s words and works. This edition will include the original text by author and firefighter Dennis Smith, one of the best-known advocates for firefighters in the country.

Jill Freedman was a highly respected New York City documentary photographer whose award-winning work is included in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography, George Eastman House, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, among others. She appeared in solo and group exhibitions worldwide, and contributed to many prominent publications.

Freedman is best known for her street and documentary photography of the 1970s and 1980s in which she captured life in New York City by immersing herself in the lives of her subjects. In addition to her time spent with firefighters, she rode alongside New York City police officers, joined the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus, and traveled with the Poor People’s campaign.   She published seven books: Old News: Resurrection City; Circus Days; Firehouse; Street Cops; A Time That Was: Irish Moments; Jill’s Dogs; and Ireland Ever. Jill Freedman lived and worked on the Upper West Side of New York City.

The New York City Fire Museum attracts around 40,000 visitors a year from all over America and almost every country in the world. Retired FDNY firefighters proudly volunteer to relate stories of New York City’s “Bravest” and with the help of the Museum’s stunning collection, tell how they earned that distinction. 


To learn more about the Museum visit

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