{Edinburgh} Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage

A new museum opened in Edinburgh last week. Of course, we had to go and check it out right away!

The Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage tells the story of Scottish firefighting from its inception to the present day. The galleries are divided in to four themes: Heritage, On the Run, Being a Firefighter, and Your Safety. Plus there’s a small display on Scotland’s Challenges, and a space for temporary exhibits, which at the moment is about Wartime Firefighters.

Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage entrance

There are five beautiful, historical fire engines on display (or ‘appliances’ as we learned vehicles for firefighting are called), alongside uniforms, operational equipment, and other memorabilia to tell the history of firefighting and the Fire Service. Touch screens with photos, interviews, and film footage let you delve deeper, and there are a few digital interactives and some dressing up too.

Museum of Fire Heritage - Heritage
Museum of Fire Heritage - Manual Pump Engine

In ‘Heritage’, we learned about the early days of firefighting, the Great Fire of Edinburgh, and the origin of the Fire Service. There were some really interesting objects and stories in this section that caught my boy’s attention, including the competing fire insurance companies, the community who raised money to buy their own fire engine, and the citizens of Edinburgh who were with free beer for helping to pump the manual fire engines. They were also surprised to find out that you could be fined, beaten, or banished from your town for causing a fire!

Museum of Fire Heritage - historic fire engine

‘On the Run’ is all about how to get to a fire quickly and handle it safely, and the equipment that is involved – from fire hoses to fire kit. My boys spent ages on one of the touch screens, where you could compare the different parts of a steam driven fire engine to a motorised one. We also learned about the control room, listened to call handlers talking about their job, challenged ourselves to dealing 999 on an old rotary phone with our eyes closed, and tried our hand at tying some knots. 

Museum of Fire Heritage
Museum of Fire Heritage rotary phone
Museum of Fire Heritage hoses

The highlight in this section for my boys though was the dressing up, with replica kits from 1824 and 2022 to try on. My eldest was over the moon to discover the dressing up clothes went up to age 12! There was also a touch screen game, where you had to assemble a fire hose and then use it to put out a fire, with three different scenarios to choose from. 

Museum of Fire Heritage uniforms

‘Being a Firefighter’ focused on the requirements and training involved in becoming a firefighter, and how this has changed through the ages, as well as the variety of skills it takes. This section was the least interactive, but had a series of touch screens with interviews and film footage. My boys were particularly interested in the ‘Canine Crews’ exhibit, where they enjoyed watching the footage of the fire rescue dogs.

Museum of Fire Heritage - Being a Firefighter

And, finally, ‘Your Safety’ looked at fire safety messages that have been shared with the public over the years, from eye catching posters to old archive footage of TV adverts. My 8 year old wouldn’t leave until he had seen every single one of them! On the way out, the boys were each allowed to choose a fire engine colouring sheet to take home, and there’s a wee shop as well if you want to buy a souvenir. 

Another neat little feature of the museum, is the observation window that looks out on to the yard of the actual fire station – it was quiet on the day we visited, but if you are lucky you might see some real life firefighters doing vehicle and kit checks, or doing training and exercises such as climbing the tower.

In conclusion, we really enjoyed our visit to the new Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage. How much time you need to factor in depends a bit on the age of your children and their attention span. We spent around one and a half hours at the museum as my boys (age 8 & 12) enjoyed listening to interviews, watching film footage, and reading labels to find out about objects. And of course they loved the interactives and dressing up too. If you have kids who are younger, or less prone to reading museum labels and listening to interviews, you can still get them engaged by picking out some of the interesting stories to share with them. 

Museum of Fire Heritage shop

I also had a chat with some of the lovely museum staff, and they are already working on adding more family friendly elements, including a trail for children to spot things, and some worksheets. I’ve signed up to the museum’s newsletter, to keep up with any news.

Planning Your Visit

Address: 1A Dryden Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 4NB (off McDonald Road)

Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-4pm. Closed Sundays & Mondays. 

Admission: Entry to the museum is free, though a donation is welcome.

All other info to planning your visit can be found on the Museum of Scottish Fire Heritage website.

How to Get There

The nearest buses are the number 10 Lothian Bus, and 13 Edinburgh Coach Line, which go down McDonald Road and stop just past the museum. There’s also half a dozen other Lothian Buses that stop on Leith Walk (stop ‘Shrubhill’), less than a 5 minute walk away, or the number 36 Lothian Bus which stops at the other end of McDonald Road. Or you can take the Tram to the McDonald Road stop, which is around a 5 minute walk from the museum.

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