Snag This: Trial by Fire"They're keeping us all safe, and they have cool toys!" Those are the words of a museum curator, talking about firefighters and their equipment in Trial by Fire: The New York City Fire Musuem, a documentary that is now available for free online viewing, courtesy of our friends at SnagFilms.

Running just 26 minutes, the doc nonetheless covers a lot of ground. It helps when the museum itself stirs up so many strong feelings. Located in a renovated 1904 firehouse in the SoHo district of Manhattan, the museum displays cover the history of firefighting in New York City, dating back to the mid-17th century. Evolving from "rattle men," who walked around looking for fires and then sounded an alarm by using hand-held rattles, to working class volunteers, who enjoyed the social opportunities of fighting fires, to the first paid department in 1865, when the number of firefighters dropped from 10,000 to 800. The doc also traces the development of equipment specifically designed for firefighters, like the fire helmet, introduced after a devastating inferno that destroyed much of the city in 1835.

While not a major piece of documentary filmmaking, I enjoyed watching Trial by Fire. Several retired firefighters bring historical perspective, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani is on hand as well. It's breezy, educational, and, perhaps best of all, pays tribute to a profession that's really more of a heroic calling. Bravo to all firefighters!

Watch Trial by Fire: The New York City Fire Museum after the jump!