One of my friends asked me about a toy space pistol his son found at a comic book shop that originally came from Radio Shack. I told him what I was able to figure out, and he said it made a pretty annoying noise. And that reminded me of my favorite toy when I was five. It was a Radio Shack fire chief’s helmet with a real working light and real annoying siren.
The Radio Shack electronic fire chief’s helmet boasted of a real rotating light and loud siren. Unfortunately, they forgot to recommend playing with it outside rather than indoors, which is probably why so many of them fell victim to sabotage and are scarce in working condition today.
Radio Shack catalog number 60-3005
Radio Shack sold the fire chief’s helmet from about 1978 to 1991. Its catalog number was 60-3005. The earliest advertisements I can find mentioning it date to 1978, which wasn’t long before I got mine. It cost $6.99 in 1978. The last one I found was from 1991.
I found a vintage ad from 1987 advertising it at a price of $7.99. Batteries extra, of course. Two C-cell batteries powered its greatness. In the 80s, Radio Shack claimed they sold more batteries than anyone else. Since every toy they sold needed batteries, I think I believe it.
But back to the helmet. It came in red or white and had a revolving flasher that lit up and a real siren that worked. The ad from 1991 gushed, “It’s got a super loud siren-sound and rotating red light. Nifty gift idea for any youngster with a dream of being a real firefighter someday.”
There was a faux gold badge on the front. The helmet measured 12 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 7 and 1/4 inches tall. It targeted kids, but was big enough for adults to wear. Apparently some used them at work to conduct fire drills.
Its price was equivalent to $20-$30 in 2022 dollars for the time it was on the market. It’s worth more than that now. Too bad someone didn’t stock up to beat inflation. It was entirely predictable this thing would become rare, at least in working order.
My Radio Shack fire chief’s helmet
In those days, the town I lived in didn’t even have a McDonald’s yet, but it had a Radio Shack. Coast to Coast and Radio Shack were the two coolest stores in that town, and the electronic battery-operated toys like this were what made Radio Shack great.
I don’t remember who got the helmet for me, but I got it for Christmas. From what I understand, it was a popular passive-aggressive gift to give to the kids of someone you were mad at. Maybe that’s how I got mine. I don’t remember how soon I got to try it out, but I remember it was loud, obnoxious and completely over the top. Five-year-old me loved it. Mom quickly made a rule that I couldn’t play with it except when my dad was watching football.
I probably followed that rule. I was pretty good at following rules and staying out of trouble. If the rule had been I could only play with it outside, I would have followed that. But then the outcome of this story would be different, and not very Gen X.
If you want to know why Gen X is so cynical, it might be because we did our best to follow the rules and got in trouble anyway. Not that anyone wants to know.
My passive-aggressive prized possession became a problem. And this passive aggressive problem received a passive aggressive solution.
One day, my Radio Shack fire chief’s helmet didn’t work anymore. Of course that meant the batteries died. So I tried the green Radio Shack Enercells in another toy. I had troubleshooting skills even at a young age. Oddly, the batteries worked fine in the other toy.
We tried new batteries in the helmet anyway. It didn’t make a difference. Mom said she didn’t know anything about it.
So I asked my dad. Dads can fix anything. But not this time. Dad said he didn’t know how to fix it.
Any time another grown up came to visit, I brought out the helmet and asked if they could figure it out. And eventually someone offered to try. This was where Young Dave first heard about soldering. But that didn’t work either.
I was too young to fix it myself. But I held out hope for a while. I remember opening it up and seeing where he had soldered a wire across some metal part that happened to be inside. But his repair didn’t work. Having repaired a lot of things with solder as an adult, I can see in my mind’s eye what he probably did. He made it look like he tried, but it was a do-nothing repair that just hid the break in the circuit elsewhere.
Eventually the helmet ended up in the bottom of my toy box, and we sold it at a garage sale sometime in the late 80s, long after I had outgrown such things. Maybe some five-year-old Elder Millennial derived some enjoyment from a fire chief’s helmet with a disabled light and siren. Or maybe they got lucky and some handy adult figured out how to fix it, then told them they could play with it all they wanted, as long as it was outside.
I hope that’s what happened. Some stories ought to have happy endings. Why does every story involving Radio Shack end like a German fairy tale?
I found a YouTube video of a fire helmet like my old one, only working. I showed it to my sons. Surely they’d relate and commiserate with me for a minute or two. I gave my oldest the shirt off my back once, after all.
Nope. After I showed them the video and told them the story, they said they believe my parents’ line that they had nothing to do with it. Then they bopped back to what they were doing and left me to my Gen X angst. “Remember who fixed your Roblox!” I shouted after them.
It seems a lot of Radio Shack fire chief’s helmets suffered a similar fate, because I find a fair number of broken ones on eBay priced around $30 or $40. Working examples turn up less often and usually sell for more than that.
I’m thinking about buying one. It would be fun to fix. And it’s cheaper than a therapy session, even at today’s prices. Too bad it doesn’t count toward my deductible.
4 thoughts on “Radio Shack fire chief’s helmet: a passive aggressive gift”
As an “Elder Millennial” (vintage 1983), I got a chuckle out of this. My parents, while young for Boomers, definitely would have “lost” this helmet if I’d had one.
You sound like exactly the kind of person whose parents would have bought that for a quarter, you’re exactly the right age. So thanks for the confirmation! I’ll go back to my Gen X angst now…
The helmet was a Christmas gift from your grandparents. They thought it was hilarious. Grossie almost fell off the chair laughing. Grandpa Ralph laughed out loud–and he didn’t laugh out loud very often. I tried to convince them that they should take it home and it would be a special treat for you when we visited. They nixed the idea and it stayed with us. I assure you, David, I had nothing to do with your helmet not working. No, I didn’t care for it; the siren *was* really loud. But it brought you joy and you loved that thing. So I was sad (a little bit) on that day when you flipped that switch and it just sat there–no lights, no siren.
Thanks Mom. I should go back and add in some of that detail. It could be the electronics inside weren’t the most reliable. Some 70s electronics were very good, but others, not so much.
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