Row over firefighters' museum

PUBLISHED: 11:29 13 December 2007 | UPDATED: 13:07 04 May 2010

Fire fighter Paul Martindale shows off the vintage steam engine.

Fire fighter Paul Martindale shows off the vintage steam engine.

ELY firefighters are feeling the heat from the city council after moving vintage fire engines out of their museum so they can turn it into a gym. They have shifted the rare, historic engines into two garages at the Egremont Street fire station to make roo

ELY firefighters are feeling the heat from the city council after moving vintage fire engines out of their museum so they can turn it into a gym.

They have shifted the rare, historic engines into two garages at the Egremont Street fire station to make room for their fitness equipment.

But Ely City councillors are steaming because they say the extension, which housed the museum, was paid for by community donations through three mayoral appeals in the early 1980s and it should be open to the public.

They want the fire service to pay compensation to rehouse the engines and are asking Ely Museum if it can take them.

Ely City councillor, Richard Hobbs, whose father, Maurice, was one of the mayors who helped to raise £8,000 for the museum, said: "The citizens of Ely contributed to this and we felt these should be keepsakes. They are a part of Ely's history.

"I was initially disappointed because these engines were moved without warning. But now I can see exciting times ahead and hopefully more people will be able to see them."

The historic steam engine and the hand water pump were both built in the late 1800s and were in use at the Old Fire Engine House, now a restaurant in the city.

Cllr Hobbs' great, great grandfather used to keep coals burning in his builder's yard in Church Lane to power the steam engine and when an emergency call came in he would run through the city with the hot embers.

Relics stored at the fire station also include helmets, uniforms and axes donated by Ely's retained fire fighters of the time.

Ely Museum curator, Elie Hughes, said discussions are ongoing about how the museum could display the engines.

"We are keen to help but currently we don't have the room," she said. "Some sort of structure would have to be built to house them."

Lawrie Booth, deputy chief fire officer at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue said: "The presence of a museum on the site of Ely Fire Station was incompatible with its day-to-day running as a station.

"We do not believe it to be appropriate, or an effective use of firefighters' time, to have operational crews showing members of the public around a museum when they could be engaging in their other duties, such as carrying out preventative work, protecting the community and responding to incidents."

He acknowledged that the building was paid for by Ely residents but said that over the last 20 years the fire service had spent a considerable amount of money on renovation and upkeep, including re-roofing, decoration, providing heating and replacement windows, doors, flooring and lighting.

He added that museum visiting figures have been very low in the last 12 months but the engines are brought out of storage every year during the fire station's annual open day.

"The decision was made at the start of this year to move the memorabilia into safe storage in a garage to the rear of the station and to utilise the extension as a physical training room for fire fighters, a place where visitors to the station could be hosted and a lecture room for staff," he added.

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