The Firehouse Light
written by Janet Nolan; illustrated by Marie Lafrance
(Tricycle Press) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
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The volunteer firefighters of Livermore, California had a problem. If there was a call for help at night, they would have to wait on a lantern before they could retrieve their equipment in the darkened wooden shack where it was stored. Help came in 1901 in the form of a four watt light bulb donated by Dennis Bernal who owned the Livermore Power and Light Company. Now the firefighters would not have to lose time waiting for a lantern to be lit. As time passed, the light bulb continued to shine. After ten years, the firefighting equipment came to be stored in a firehouse with walls and windows, and the light bulb continued to shine. In 1976, after 75 years of shining, the light bulb needed to be moved to a new firehouse. A parade was held just for the light bulb as its socket, cord, and porcelain outlet were removed and driven to the new home. There was great suspense as the light bulb was reconnected in the new firehouse. Would it continue to shine in a new location after 75 years of nonstop light?
Change over time is a major theme in social studies and The Firehouse Light is an excellent resource for helping students understand how the world has changed in the last 100 years. Author Janet Nolan tells the story of this amazing light bulb in ten year increments. With each increment, she gives examples of how life inside and outside of the firehouse has changed. For example, Nolan tells that after twenty years, "No longer was news of a fire spread by cries and shouts. When a fire broke out, townspeople could call the telephone switchboard operator." If you want to teach students how to use and create time lines, The Firehouse Light is a slam dunk text for teaching this skill.
After 109 years, this light bulb still burns in the firehouse of Livermore, California. It has its own website (http://www.centennialbulb.org/) complete with a webcam showing the light bulb. The funny thing is that the first camera showing the bulb lasted only three years!
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