Months before my two-and-a-half year-old spoke his first coherent English word, he, like all toddlers, had his own language. One of the first things he said regularly (and repeatedly) was “Budja!” which we eventually translated into “Fire Truck.” So you see, even before he could talk, my son was obsessed with fire trucks.
These days, he wants to look at fire truck books, he wants to wear his fire truck jammies, he gets a massive deer-in-the-headlights stare going when a fire truck whips past while he’s strapped into his car seat, he likes to crawl around and “Woooo!” in imitation of their sirens.
I have since discovered that my son is not unique. In fact, many toddlers get all gooey when the subject turns to fire fighters and fire trucks. Why is that? What is it about these community guardians and their vehicles that so entrance the youth? Being scientifically-minded, I decided on an experiment. I attached electrodes to my Little Guy’s skull, monitored the readout on my iPhone (you can do anything with those gadgets), and visited the local fire stations.
There are five fire stations in Tarrytown, three in Sleepy Hollow, and one in Irvington —each one beckoning to children like a flashy neon sign in a G-rated red light district. Kids can’t resist the call, which seems to draw them on a sub-atomic level, overcoming the force of gravity to pull them sideways into the open station.
Once a parent succumbs to the inevitable and allows their child inside, the child is presented with a host of entertainment options. Every fire station welcomes guests. Fire fighters are here to serve the public, and if nothing’s currently burning down, they’re happy to show off their wares. Does Junior want to climb up into the cab? Try on a real fireman’s helmet? Scrub a fire truck’s grill clean with soap and water (the little fingers can fit between the grills so much easier than adult fingers)? The volunteers at the stations we visited were so helpful, so eager to please, I half expected them to invite my son to ride with them on a call and race into the burning building.
Needless to say, each visit was so overwhelmingly fun for my son that the readouts on my iPhone were pointless. What was it about fire trucks that he liked? Everything.
As if just visiting weren’t enough, each station ups the ante by giving out fire-themed bounty to any and all wayward youngsters who wander their way. During our visits, we’ve received coloring books, crayons, tot finder stickers, t-shirts, a stuffed Curious George doll (not sure how that fit the theme, but you don’t look a gift Curious George in the mouth), and of course, endless little plastic fire fighter hats. It’s as if each station is in competition with the others to see who can give away the most stuff to the most kids.
“We gave away eight hats, two shirts, a commemorative lapel pin, and a stuffed fire hydrant today!”
“Oh yeah? Well we gave out twelve hats, four coloring books, and a Dalmatian!”
“Ooooo. Good one!”
But visiting the fire station is about more than accumulating swag. More often than not, any trip will include one-on-one interaction with a real, honest-to-goodness firefighter where they will tell you about their experiences such as getting confined space entry training. This may seem commonplace to us, the adults, who know this particular firefighter as Gus, that neighbor who never mows his lawn and walks around his house naked, but to your children, this is Fire Fighter Man. Forget Iron Man, forget Batman, forget Condorman. (You’ve already forgotten Condorman, haven’t you?) The only action hero your toddler cares about is Fire Fighter Man.
Watching my test subject / son race around the truck excitedly, it was easy to become lost in his joy. “Fire truck! Fire truck! Firetruckfiretruckfiretruck!” He gawked at wheels twice his size, rang the bell on the front bumper, and stared into the massive headlights — all the while readjusting the little red firefighter hat that kept slipping down over his eyes. On one particularly thrilling visit, the fire station received a call, and one of the trucks roared to life and pulled out of the station, siren blaring. I held my son’s hand as he stood, slack-jawed in awe as the mighty machine sprang to life inches from his face. These were the forces of good, off to battle evil, to save humanity, apple pie, and possibly a puppy, all at once. It made his day.
Want to make your toddler’s day? Take him or her (girls like fire engines, too!) to a fire station. There’s one closer than you think.
Irvington Fire Department
90 Main Street
Main Street Fire House
50 Main Street
Phenix Hose Co.
Central Ave. & Mechanics Ave.
Riverside Engine Co.
Franklin & White St.
Washington Engine Co.
157 White Plains Rd. (Route 119)
Consolidated Engine Co.
177 Sheldon Ave.
Sleepy Hollow Fire Headquarters
28 Beekman Ave.
Union Hose Engine Co. #2
129 Cortlandt St.
Rescue Hose Co. #1
Lawrence Ave. between Beekman and Route 9