RAF

RAF Firefighting Museum: Looking Around The Collection Which Could Soon Close

The volunteers have until mid-December to find a new space.

A museum showcasing the work of Royal Air Force firefighters is facing closure by the end of the year unless it finds a new home.

More than 40 volunteers look after the collection, which is currently housed in a warehouse in Lincolnshire.

They come from a variety of backgrounds, with a number of them being former servicemen - including RAF firemen.

The team has been given until mid-December to find a new space to host the collection.

Vehicle hall at RAF Firefighting museum 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
The RAF Firefighting Museum hosts a wide variety of fire engines.

"Many people don't realise that the military has its own fire service," Steve Shirley, Chairman of the Museum of RAF Firefighting.

"Within the collection, we have the largest display of fire memorabilia in the country and probably the largest collection of not just military fire engines.

"We also have civilian fire engines," Mr Shirley added.

The fire engines on display come from a variety of sources.

Some of them are a result of vehicle donations and purchases by the organisation, and some come from "piles of junk" in scrapyards.

Reaching Normandy Right After D-Day

The RAF Fire Service can trace its roots back to 1922 and the oldest Air Force fire engine on display at the museum is dated 1943.

The vehicle, explained Mr Shirley, is an example of a War Officer Type 1 Firefight.

1943 fire engine used in Normandy 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
The War Office Type 1 Firefight was used in Nromandy right after D-Day.

The model was brought into production in 1943 and is only one of three fire engines that actually survived the Second World War.

"What makes it even more special is that it went to Normandy six days after D-Day," said Mr Shirley.

The deployment to Normandy on such peculiar circumstances explain why the fire engine is not painted in the common red colour.

Instead, the vehicle is painted in brown-green camouflage.

"These vehicles were in any airfield when the RAF operated aircraft. It was state of the art in its time." 

Mannequin with white asbestos suit 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
White asbestos suit were used by RAF firefighters during the Second World War.

Also representative of the time is the mannequin at the museum which stands by the historical fire engine.

The mannequin wears a white asbestos suit typical of those RAF firefighters operating during the Second World War.

"For every take-off and landing, a fireman would be dressed in this asbestos suit," Mr Shirley explained.

"Particularly in wartime, we were not that bothered about saving the aircraft... we were interested in saving the trained people so they could operate the aircraft."

"If somebody was trapped inside a burning aircraft with one of their limbs, those firefighters had to do amputations using some very basic hand tools to free the person from the wreckage and drag them clear," said Mr Shirley

Taming Flames During The Blitz

Austin K4 fire engine 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Very few models of Austin K4 are preserved.

Among the various vehicles on display is an Austin K4 fire engine, which was used during the Second World War Blitz.

There were less than 16 of them in service during that period, explained Gareth Jordan, one of the volunteers.

The museum has been restoring the Austin K4 "over the past four to five years" given its historic significance, as it is one of the very few models preserved.

Fire Engine For Crash Rescue

Mark 5 fire truck 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
The Mark-5 fire engines were designed thinking of support needed after aircraft crashed.

Two Mark-5 fire trucks are also on display at the museum.

The vehicles entered service in 1952 and were amongst the first fire engines designed with aircraft firefighting in mind.

"They were specifically designed for crash rescue," explained Mr Jordan.

A crew of five would be on the truck and reach the site of the crash to deliver immediate support and aid.

"My dad as a Royal Air Force firefighter in the 1950s, as well as my uncle Irvin," said Mr Jordan.

"My dad died when I was 10 years old, so this [Mark-5 fire engine] keeps the memory alive."

The 'Limousine' Of Fire Engines

Dennis F Series fire truck 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Dennis F Series models were considered a "luxury" by RAF firefighters.

Two admiralty machines from the Dennis F Series can also be found at the Museum of RAF Firefighting.

"They were the first fire engines to be built from the ground up as a limousine fire engine," said Nigel Bayes, who volunteers at the museum.

While pre-war models would have crew and instruments sitting outside the main truck, "with no protection from the elements", the Dennis F Series trucks offered more safety for the team and the equipment.

"When these came into service, it must have been an absolute luxury for the guys riding it."

One That Brings Back Memories

Mark 1 fire engine 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Some of the volunteers remember working as RAF firefighters on Mark-1 fire engines.

The Dual Purpose Mark-1 came into service in 1957.

Volunteer Edward Munro said that when he sees the Mark-1 at the museum "all the memories flood back" for him.

"We had them throughout the service... they were one of the main vehicles during my career along with the Mark-6."

The Mark-1s were the "backup trucks" to feed the Mark-6 out on an incident, Mr Munro said.

"It is very sentimental, but it is nice to see them and see them working."

Volunteers at RAF Firefighting museum 151019 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
More than 40 people currently volunteer at the museum.

The museum staff has been given until mid-December to find a new location for their collection.

"[The museum] is preserving the history of the fire service and also engineering skills," said Mr Bayes.

For many of the volunteers, the vehicles on display are more than passion projects.

They are part of their personal and family history, heritage and culture.

"One of the greatest buzzes for us is to be standing inside the vehicle hall when a member of the public walks in for the first time," said Mr Shirley.

"I have to say, the first reaction is often... wow."