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Saint John museum preserves city’s firefighting history

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It’s one of the oldest buildings in Canada’s oldest incorporated city.

The Saint John Firefighters Museum first opened its doors to the public in the 1980s, but the building itself goes back much further.

“It was built in 1840, and it was in service until 1949,” says Saint John Firefighters Museum supervisor and director Ron Kearney. “This museum was restored in the 80s to its glory now with a few upgrades along the lines. Basically it’s preserving the Saint John area (firefighting) history.”

The building was originally the No.2 Engine Firehouse in the Port City for more than a century. It was used for storage for a few decades following its decommissioning before the museum opened.

Kearney oversees the museums operations and students work at the facility during the summer, offering tours to anyone who arrives. Donations are taken as admission to the museum.

“(The museum) is funded by our local 771 Saint John Firefighters Association,” says Kearney, who is also a firefighter with the Saint John department. “But we do count on donations from the community.”

Inside the museum are numerous photos offering a timeline of the city’s firefighting history, as well as various firefighting artifacts from the past century-and-a-half.

Of all the priceless artifacts, the one that sticks out most is a 1930s American LaFrance firetruck on the museum’s main floor. It’s a relic the museum acquired a year-and-a-half ago.

“It was in the museum in Science and Technology in Ottawa for many years,” Kearney says. “When we got the call that it was there and it was available, it was very exciting, so we flew right up and made sure that it was actually a truck from Saint John, New Brunswick. It actually tuned out that it was in the original condition it was when it left Saint John.”

The bottom floor holds the LaFrance engine and many other relics, and the second floor is mostly dedicated to the Great Saint John Fire of 1877. Fittingly, the fire station is one of the few uptown buildings that survived the blaze.

“We have many students both in elementary and middle school coming in to do their reports on it throughout the year for school,” says Kearney. “It’s something we take great pride in showing off.”

As a firefighter himself, Kearney also feels a great deal of pride in being able to have a firefighting museum to document the city’s history.

“Firefighters throughout North America that visit our station and tell us how lucky we are to have this as our own,” Kearney says. “I take great pride in it.”

This Friday, the Firefighters Museum will host a “Fun Day,” offering refreshments and freezies to anyone who comes by, while rides around town on the museum’s other fire engine (a 1956 American LaFrance) will be available through a donation. The “Fun Day” runs from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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