NORWICH — Fire service aficionados and history enthusiasts alike will have the opportunity to view 200 years worth of history at Grant's Fire Museum, located at 48 Sheldon Street in Norwich, at their grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 11.
The museum is owned by career firefighter Andrew Grant, who said firefighting and collecting artifacts is in his family's blood.
"I’m a fourth generation firefighter. I’m currently a paid fireman for the Metro North Railroad, for Grand Central. So the fire service has always been in my family blood, if you want to say," said Grant. "Ever since being a little kid my father always helped me be a collector, he would buy me miscellaneous old fire items and stuff to help fill my room as a kid, and from there it kind of grew."
Thanks to a lifetime of collecting firefighting paraphernalia, Grant said many of the items in his museum are part of his and his father's personal collections, as well as some things donated by friends and family. Some items even date back as far as the early 1800s.
"We have almost 100 fire helmets dating back from the 1800s to modern day, miscellaneous badges, newspaper articles, tools, extinguishers. Basically everything that has to do with the fire service, we collect," said Grant.
Even the building that houses the museum is historical. According to Grant, the structure was the former location of the Ontario Hose Company No. 3, from approximately 1950 to 2006.
"It's the former Ontario Hose Company No. 3. The company themselves, the members, built it in 1950 when they had to move out of their original firehouse over by Ontario Hotel there. At least that’s what the members have told me," he said.
Finding the location was a chance occurrence, as Grant said he happened to come across the listing on Facebook. Speaking with the seller and learning about the building's past prompted Grant to go beyond just storing his family's firetruck, and instead chase a longtime dream of owning a fire museum.
"At the time I was looking for a place just to store the firetruck that my family has owned. So I started messaging Ed on how big the bay door was, how big the building was, and stuff like that, and Ed happened to mention that it was a retired firehouse. So, funny you say that, I’m planning on putting a firetruck in there," Grant explained. "So that was the original plan for the building, and then being a big collector it kind of just spawned into, hey, you know what, it’s always been a dream of mine to own an old firehouse and make it into a private museum. So all the cards kind of came into place."
The firetruck is a 1969 GMC that was originally part of Grant's hometown fire department. In 2003, it was sold to a neighboring department and used in competitions, and eventually left to sit in a parking lot.
"They used to keep it in a parking lot down the street from my house, and one day when I was walking to the store, I walked over there and was just checking out the truck and took a couple photos because it was in kind of rough shape," said Grant. "I went back home and told my father, you know what, it’s a shame that the truck’s sitting there, we should do something."
"We put in a bid for it, and at first they didn’t accept it, they wanted a little more than what we were offering. I wrote a letter stating that it’s a piece of history and it’s sitting there and they haven’t really done anything with it," he continued. "After they got my letter they called us and said, it’s yours for what you guys offered, come take it. We have had it since 2013."
In addition to being a historical item and piece of the museum, the firetruck is also of sentimental value for Grant and his father. He said, "It’s the first truck my father has ever been on a pole to, it’s the first truck I ever sat on as a little kid."
The opening of Grant's Fire Museum marks the culmination of two years of hard work. Grant said he found the listing in April of 2020, and was finally able to close that August. Since then, he's been renovating the space and getting it ready for the public.
"Starting in August 2020, I’ve been working on it since. We redid the whole inside, painted the floors, put a new garage floor down, painted the outside, we put a new driveway in, and then just all the displays inside I built by hand. All the cabinets, all the shelving and stuff," said Grant. "I had some help from my mother and father, and some friends. But for the most part on my days off, my weekends, I would just go by myself and just crank out a whole bunch of work."
After the grand opening event, Grant said the museum's hours of operation will be a bit "random," but that those interested in visiting can keep an eye on the Grant's Fire Museum Facebook and Instagram pages to find their upcoming hours.
"I’m still working on what set hours I want to do, because right now my work schedule is not too flexible on weekends," he said. "I do have a local retired firefighter, Joe Wagner, who’s also a big collector and a member of Ontario Hose, who’s going to be acting as like the volunteer and open up shop so people can come and check out the place."
Admission is a $5 donation, and Grant said all the proceeds will go straight back into the museum for regular maintenance and utilities.
"I've definitely put a lot of work into it, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. This is more than just a weekend hobby, this has been a passion of mine since I was a kid," said Grant. "I’ve always loved the fire service, and I just want to share the love and have people learn and enjoy it."