We Tried It! Honolulu Fire Museum and Education Center Tour

Fire truck-obsessed keiki step into their heroes' boots, literally.


Photo: Laura Dornbush

Who: Four 2-year-old boys, one 2-year old girl and four moms.

Where: Honolulu Fire Museum and Education Center, Kakaʻako

When: Saturday at 9 a.m.


When Duke was an infant, I was lucky to meet a hui of new moms through baby yoga classes. Now our group’s leader, Nicolle, invites 10 toddlers (including three sets of twins!) and their moms into her home each week for a playgroup class. We often venture out on field trips together, as well. Most of the group lives in condos in Kaka‘ako, so we walk to meet up for various activities in the area.


On this particular Saturday morning, we met at the Honolulu Fire Museum and Education Center located next to the Honolulu Fire Department Headquarters and Fire Station No. 9 Kaka‘ako. Nicolle had made an online reservation for a guided tour for our group. The museum offers free tours on the third Saturday of every month.


SEE ALSO: We Tried It: Hawaiian Railway Society’s Train Rides in ‘Ewa


Photo: Laura Dornbush

Duke has been in love with fire engines and firefighters since we attended a Touch-A-Truck event last year, so he was especially excited about this outing. He proudly wore his firefighter rain boots for the occasion, even though they are too big and hard to walk in.


We were greeted by Fire Inspector Chris Bartolome, a dad himself, who made the kids feel comfortable by asking their names and ages. To start, he led us on a tour of the outdoor memorials on property and explained the history of the Honolulu Fire Department and the 1928 fire station building itself (which is now the museum).


When we entered the museum, the keiki were in awe of the 1928 fire engine and 1937 pumper truck. The kids were also interested when Fire Capt. Kevin Ching explained how the system of alarms worked back in the day. He also spoke about how and when to dial 9-1-1. Fire Inspector Daryl Mau showed us a bullet hole in the pumper truck from the rescue efforts on Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor.


The kids started out attentive and excited, but by the 30-minute mark, we were starting to lose them. They were asking for snacks. Uh oh—no food allowed in the museum.


The firefighter tour guides saved the day by escorting us upstairs to the interactive area in the former dormitory. Hooray! Duke and his friends ran over to the play kitchen and started exploring and ‘cooking.’


Photo: Laura Dornbush

We learned about kitchen safety and how to put out an oil fire on the stove. (Slide a cookie sheet or metal lid horizontally over the flames to cut off the oxygen supply. Turn off the heat source and keep the sheet or cover on until the flames have cooled. Never put water on a grease fire. Always keep pot and pan handles turned toward the back of the stove when keiki are around. As a last resort, use a Class B dry chemical fire extinguisher).


Photo: Laura Dornbush

Next, Fire Inspector Chris helped the toddlers try on kid-size versions of firefighter gear: boots, overalls, jacket and helmet. Duke was in heaven to be dressed like a real firefighter. The other kids tried on the helmet but were hesitant to put on the rest of the gear. Duke didn’t want to take the uniform off, so we finished up the self-led tour of the upstairs exhibit dressed in full gear.


Photo: Laura Dornbush

On the way out, the keiki chose a few souvenirs to take home: stickers, pencils, flashlights, bracelets and handouts about fire safety. But their favorite parting gifts were their very own plastic firefighter helmets. Our tour guides had saved the best for last, because then the kids were able to sit inside the pumper truck and pretend to drive.


Happy kiddos and the best photo op for the moms!


I was impressed by how personable and engaging the firefighter tour guides were. The historical information they provided was fascinating to the adults—but lost on the toddlers. I would recommend the experience to any fire truck-obsessed toddler for the interactive area and photo op alone, but be prepared to be patient through the historic part of the tour.

Our Tips

1. Make a reservation. It’s easy to reserve your spot online in advance. The maximum group size is 15.

Photo: Laura Dornbush

2. Park at the museum. There are plenty of designated museum parking spots. Enter from Queen Street and look for the ‘Museum Parking’ sign.


3. Take a potty break. There is a large, single-stall restroom on the first floor of the museum. There is no changing table, so your best bet to change a diaper is on the benches in front of the museum or in the trunk of your car. There are also two water fountains next to the restroom.

Photo: Laura Dornbush

4. Capture the moment. Wait until the end of the tour to take pictures on the fire trucks when the keiki receive a firefighter helmet souvenir.


5. Learn CPR. On the third Saturday of every month, in conjunction with the museum tour, the fire department hosts a free CPR training right next door in the Honolulu Fire Department Headquarters. The training is on a walk-in basis and is free. Unfortunately, we had already run out of energy that day, but hope to come back in the future.


6. Listen for sirens. The museum is adjacent to Kaka‘ako Fire Station No. 9, so if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the fire trucks and crew headed out to a call. Be careful not to get too close, as they have an important job to do.


The Honolulu Fire Museum and Education Center offers free tours the third Saturday of the month between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. 620 South St., Honolulu. 808-723-7168. Schedule your tour here honolulu.gov/hfd