For 20 years, children’s book author/illustrator Brian Biggs has lived down the street from Philadelphia’s Ladder Company 30. When his sons were young and the family would pass by the firehouse, they often saw the firefighters sitting outside on nice evenings playing cards and hanging out.
“Don’t they have things to do?” the boys would ask.
One day not too long ago, Biggs decided to find out. He had already launched a book series on “Tinyville Town,” which he describes as “Sesame Street mixed with Fisher-Price toys.”
Local families may remember Biggs’ “Tinyville Town” series from last year’s Family Reading Night event, where he was the guest speaker and presented his picture book, “Tinyville Town Gets to Work,” about a community that pulls together to build a new bridge.
The series also includes board books that illustrate various professions, including mail carrier, veterinarian and firefighter. Biggs wanted to create a “Tinyville” book that would take children inside the firehouse too.
On his visit to Ladder Company 30 that day, Lt. Tony Knighton invited him in for a tour.
The result is a new book, “At the Firehouse,” that takes children on their own behind-the-scenes tour, showing them how the firefighters live like a family while they’re on duty, each sharing in all of the responsibilities of cleaning and making meals. And when there is an alarm, how they all respond to help the person in need.
Biggs will be in Washington for a special “Storytime ‘At the Firehouse’ ” event being held inside the Washington Fire Department headquarters building on 14th Street Saturday, May 11, from 10 a.m. to noon, and no one is more excited about the event than Biggs himself.
Since the book came out in March, he has given several readings and book-signings at schools and libraries, but none have been inside an actual firehouse.
“When the publisher called to tell me, ‘You’re going to be in a firehouse, I nearly lost my mind,’ ” Biggs told The Missourian.“I’d love them to put together something here at my local firehouse. I’m going to have to get on that.”
Biggs said he’s also excited just to return to Washington after seeing the impressive turnout for the 2018 Family Reading Night. He’s looking forward to seeing the large crowd he knows will turn out.
“I like to travel. I like the Midwest,” he said, noting he grew up in Arkansas. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again. I really felt welcomed, and it was a great event last year . . . I loved it!
“I’m excited to sit at the Old Dutch and have a hamburger and fries,” he added. “I work by myself in a garage studio, and I really like that. I like being able to get in here, shut the door and get my work done. But it’s really, really great when I get to stand in front of people and talk about my books.”
Dawn Kitchell, educational services director at The Missourian and owner of Neighborhood Reads bookstore, is equally excited to have Biggs return to Washington.
“I feel like Brian creates these books just for Washington!” she remarked. “First, we’re building a bridge, and Brian writes and illustrates a book about a community coming together to build a bridge. A year later, I get an advance copy of his next book in the mail, and he’s written about the firehouse — and in Washington we’re so proud of our volunteer fire department, I knew he had to come back and share this book IN our firehouse.”
Making that possible involved getting other groups to support the idea as well. “Story Time ‘At the Firehouse’ ” is being sponsored by Neighborhood Reads bookstore, The Missourian, Washington Public Library and the Washington Volunteer Fire Company.
“Collaborating in our community is so amazing,” said Kitchell. “Terry Sullentrup with the Washington Fire Company literally rolled out the red carpet — or in firehouse terms would we say he rolled out the fire hose?
“I met with him and said I’d like to invite Brian to read his story in front of a fire truck here — and the next thing I know, there is a firehouse extravaganza planned,” she said. “It has been incredible. And Claire Miller (Washington Public Library director) jumped right in with everything the library could add.”
Activities for Children, Adults, Families
“Storytime ‘At the Firehouse’ ” will include a slate of activities for children and adults. In addition to hearing Biggs read and discuss the story, there will be:
• Tours of the firehouse where people can see the bunkroom and the kitchen.
• Tours of the trucks and other equipment.
• A chance to play with hoses, get in the fire trucks and meet the firefighters.
• A child-size “Tinyville Town” made out of cardboard where children can dress up as firefighters and drive a toy truck to put out a “fire.”
• Simulation of a 911 call center.
• Fire equipment and extinguisher demonstrations.
• Craft center with activities and games for young children.
• Attendance prizes, including copies of “At the Firehouse.”
• Marshall the dalmation from “PAW Patrol” (donated by Johnny Brock’s).
Additional parking will be provided on the lot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, next door to the firehouse. Refreshments will be provided.
Depending on the crowd size, firefighters may allow people to get into the bucket of the ladder truck.
If an alarm comes in during the event, the Washington firefighters will be prepared for that, said Sullentrup, who currently handles public relations for the fire company.
For Biggs, that experience would be like a dream come true.
“That would be fun!” he remarked.
Dedicated to Philly’s Ladder Company 30
“At the Firehouse” is dedicated to Lt. Tony and members of Ladder Company 30, and the illustrations Biggs drew for the story are based on photos he took on that first tour.
The crew was so pleased with how the book turned out that they presented Biggs with a special hooded sweatshirt they had made with his name and the emblem for Ladder 30. He plans to bring that (or possibly wear it, if it’s not too warm) to Washington to show during his story time presentation.
As in all of Biggs’ “Tinyville” books, there is a lot of diversity in “At the Firehouse,” beginning with Firefighter Kate giving Dexter a tour of the firehouse.
“Tinyville Town is nothing if not diverse,” said Biggs. “We have a female police officer, a female firefighter, an African-American mayor. That’s one of the things the whole book series is built around.
“I really wanted to have a series of books like the ones I grew up with, ‘Richard Scary’-type books, but instead of having pigs and chickens . . . I wanted to have something more diverse that my kids would recognize.”
In “Tinyville Town,” children see how lots of different types of people who are doing lots of different kinds of things work together to make the community better. Biggs said his vision for the series was to show how everybody interacts and is needed in a community.
“So whether you’re in Washington, Mo., or downtown Philadelphia, we have that in common,” he said. “They’re two very different places, but I think those kinds of little communities within the bigger cities are what we have in common.”
Biggs has several other books coming out soon, including “What Kind of Car Does a T-Rex Drive?” (May 2019) and “Bike and Trike” (Spring 2020), about a tricycle that is jealous of a new bicycle. Both titles were written by other authors but Biggs provided the illustrations.
And this October, Biggs will release “The Space Walk” about an astronaut who goes for a walk.
Firefighters Will Promote Safety
Organizers are expecting a large crowd to attend “Storytime ‘At the Firehouse,’ ” which will provide the firefighters a perfect opportunity to drive home their message of safety. So they will be sharing information with children and adults about the importance of working smoke detectors and how to maintain them, along with other home fire safety tips.
“A lot of people know that they have to replace the batteries in their smoke detectors, but they don’t always realize that smoke detectors get old and just don’t work after a while, so you have to replace them too,” said Sullentrup.
As a longtime firefighter, Sullentrup said he enjoyed reading “At the Firehouse” and knows Washington families will appreciate it.
“It’s a neat book, and I think it will be exciting for the kids to hear and listen to the author talk about it too,” he said. “We think it will certainly be an exciting event.”
“Storytime ‘At the Firehouse’ ” is a free event and is open to the public. Washington Fire Department headquarters is located at 200 E. 14th St., Washington.
Copies of the book will be available for sale, and Biggs will sign them at the event. The book also is available at Neighborhood Reads bookstore.