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Retired Albany fire chief Darrel Tedisch looks at a replica of a dress uniform that early volunteer firefighters wore for parades and other special events. It's part of the "Where There's Smoke" exhibit, marking 150 years of the Albany Fire Department, now on view at the Albany Regional Museum.

Happy birthday to the Albany Fire Department, which marks its 150th anniversary this year — and is planning a number of events to celebrate, including a major presence in this year's Veterans Day Parade — which, as it happens, will march right past the department's new headquarters on Lyon Street.

But the celebration began in earnest last week, when the Albany Regional Museum opened its new exhibit about the department's first 150 years, "Where There's Smoke." Judging by early reports, it's a fascinating look at the department and how firefighting equipment and technology has changed over the past century and a half. 

Before the Fire Department was formed in 1869, residents had to resort to bucket brigades to fight blazes. While these brigades are terrific ways to bring a community together, let's just say they leave something to be desired in terms of actually fighting fires. Volunteering for the department was considered a prestigious gig back in its early days, and volunteers had to chip in a quarter each month to help pay for equipment. 

These days, it's safe to say, the level of professionalism in the department has increased considerably — and the equipment firefighters use is considerably more effective (and, yes, more expensive). But, in many ways, the growth of the Fire Department parallels the growth of the city it has served for 150 years — and the museum's exhibit, which will be on view through 2021, offers a fascinating peek into both.

The exhibit also will increase your appreciation for the work that the department's men and women do every day to help protect lives and property in the community. And it'll give you something to think about the next time you pull over on the road to make way for a Fire Department vehicle en route to offer assistance to someone in need — just as the department has been doing for the past century and a half. (mm)

Farewell, Opportunity 

You probably saw the news item about the NASA Mars rover Opportunity, which was officially declared dead last week. The rover hadn't sent a message back to Earth since last summer, and one last message to it last week went unanswered. Mission officials believe a massive dust storm on the red planet meant that Opportunity's solar panels could not generate enough electricity to keep it awake.

Nevertheless, Opportunity (and its twin rover, Spirit, which explored the other side of the planet) represent huge success stories for NASA: Scientists thought when the rovers landed in 2004, that they might each be good for 90 days or so — and were saying what a big deal it would be if they both got that far.

Both crafts crushed those expectations. Spirit lasted until 2010 before going dark, and Opportunity provided 14 years of often-riveting photos and data from Mars, traveling some 28 miles during the course of its mission. (Again, to put this into perspective: Scientists would have been thrilled if the golf cart-sized rover had covered just a half-mile, so Opportunity did 56 times than expected, and did it over unforgiving terrain in exceedingly harsh conditions.)

The emotional outpouring over Opportunity's demise put us in mind a little bit of Spike Jonze's fabulous 2002 commercial for Ikea, the one in which viewers ended up feeling sorry for a lamp that had been left in the trash, in the rain, by its owner.  "Many of you feel bad for this lamp," the narrator says in the commercial. "That is because you're crazy! It has no feelings."

Well, excuse us for feeling a pang of emotion (and, yes, gratitude) for that overachieving Opportunity — and here's a note of appreciation for the men and women who helped put it on Mars in the first place. When we finally put humans on Mars, we ought to track down Opportunity and Spirit and turn them into memorials. (mm)

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