Dawn Warren entertained thousands of children on the shaded property near the railroad tracks off Ulmerton Road in the last 15 years.
As director of the Kids Firehouse Museum in Largo, she's seen children climb the fire trucks in the firehouse, frolic through her outdoor playground and leave exhausted as well as more safety-conscious.
But the era has ended.
The Kids Firehouse Museum, a program of the Missing Children Awareness Foundation located at 1094 95th St N, is closing its doors.
A public auction will take place at the facility Tuesday. The money garnered from the sale will be given back to the foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes public safety. Its major project is providing Pinellas County families with child photo identification and fingerprint kits.
"It's killing me to close. I've done a lot of work on this,"Warren said. "The foundation will continue to operate here, and I want to make sure people understand that. The fire trucks are assets that we have and selling them will help us continue to operate."
More than 130 items, including a dozen-plus vehicles, will be on the block.
Selling off firehouse equipment is unusual, concedes Greg Farner, vice president of Bay Area Auction Services. However, these days, it's one of many sales he's been handling.
"It's the times we are involved in," he said. "Since 2007, we've been handling six to nine auctions a month.''
Warren's father, Richard Witteck, founded the museum in 1994 with Raymond Fernandez of Tampa and Jim Ingold of Seminole. The three friends all died in the mid 1990s, but Warren has been able to keep the program afloat up until now.
"My father felt it would help children,'' she said. "But I also remember grown men who would act like little kids in here. When my dad would drive a truck in the neighborhood, he'd always laugh and say that fire trucks would turn the men into little kids.''
Although she couldn't estimate how much cash the auction will generate, Warren is hoping for about $100,000.
"That would keep (the foundation) afloat for the next few years. I'd be tickled pink with that amount,'' she said.
The news of the museum's closure caught Largo fire Chief Michael Wallace by surprise. Wallace remembered taking his own daughter, Alexandra, when she was a student at Southside Fundamental.
"Seeing the older equipment was a great component to understanding what we do,'' Wallace said.
Wallace now plans to attend the auction.
"And I expect I'll know some others who will purchase some of the pieces," he said. "Maybe we can donate some back to be part of our station here. It's a wonderful collection of the history of fire service.''
Reach Piper Castillo at email@example.com or (727) 445-4163.
What: A "no reserve sale" auction of fire trucks and memorabilia from the Kids Firehouse Museum by Bay Area Auction Services of Pinellas Park.
When: 10 a.m. Tuesday. A preview will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday and at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Where: Kids Firehouse Museum in Largo
Online: The trucks and select memorabilia will be available for live online bidding at www.baaslive.com.
For more information: Visit bayareaauctionservices.com or call (727) 548-9303.
The main pieces of firefighting equipment for sale:
- An 1875 hand-drawn water cannon with hose reel and nozzle from the Boston Fire Department.
- A 1924 American La France Pumper with original ladders and toolbox. This chain-driven venerable old fire horse last saw service in the Palmetto Fire Department.
- A 1941 Pirsch Pumper made by Chevrolet donated by the Crestview Fire Department in 1993. This was one of the few fire engines made at the beginning of World War II. It has the original wooden ladders and 113,000 brave miles.
- A 1950 American International L-185, donated in 1994 by Metal Industries of Clearwater.
- A 1951 Seagrave 400B-750 Pumper from Concord, N.C., which comes with a 150-foot brush fire hose and foam firefighting unit along with a dual ignition, 12-cylinder power plant.