Life Offbeat

By Dil Dissanayake and Lucy Notarantonio

 

A firefighting fanatic who has spent almost 40 years collecting memorabilia has turned his collection into a MUSEUM – because he has nowhere else to store it.

Retired RAF firefighter Steven Shirley, 55, has thousands of model fire engines, hundreds of fire extinguishers – and even has 52 real decommissioned fire engines as part of his personal haul.

He admits he’s spent thousands on his collection over the years – but has never totalled the true cost up because he can’t bear to tell long-suffering wife Kim, 55.

She initially brought him a German airfield fire engine in 1983 when he graduated as a firefighter but unbeknown to both of them his collection would become big enough to open up a museum.

Steven, from Scampton, Linconshire, believes his 3,500 fire engine models, 300 fire helmets, 300 extinguishers and 52 real fire engines is the largest ex-military collection in the country.

The grandfather-of-three said: “I describe my collection as a beast that is out of control.

“I have had an incredible career which allowed me to travel the world, I have seen the best and the worst but my collection is something I enjoy and allows me to give something back to my job of almost 37 years.

“Kim brought me a model as a gift and then one thing led to another and my collection grew fairly quickly – my desire to expand led to me buying a real fire engine in 1986 for just £200.

“It was in an auction that I was fortunate enough to win – I now have 52 – one of which travelled to Normandy six days after D-day!

“But it isn’t just military items I collect but ceramic figures, amusement arcade rides, Trumpton fire brigades stuff and basically anything that is fire related.

“I exchanged a lot of stuff during my visits to various countries all over Europe, America, Iraq and the Falkland islands with the RAF.

“I swapped Red Arrow merchandise for a Japanese firefighter uniform with another passionate firefighter who collected stuff.

“I have dabbled with the internet but I find things are very expensive – a lot of stuff have also been donations from others!”

Steven has spent a ‘considerable amount’ of money which he does not wish to discuss.

In 2018, he decided to share his love for firefighting with members of public by registering as a charity called ‘Museum of RAF firefighting’.

He currently keeps his collection in a 85,000 feet space provided by the North Lincolnshire council but he hopes to find a forever home as the lease has come to an end.

He adds: “I have over 40 volunteers who work at the museum, some of which are in their 80’s and it has given them a new lease of life.

“They are as passionate as me and are able to relive their memories during tours – one even said to me the museum is the reason he gets up in the morning.

“We rely solely on donations to pay the utility and restoration bills – there isn’t anything in the museum that doesn’t function but the upkeep is costly.

“I believe I have some of the rarest items and only ones left in the world.

“I hope we can find the funding to move to another space within Lincolnshire so the museum can live on.

“My hobby has turned into a community focal point which keeps people’s memories alive along with promoting a career in the RAF.

“I use the collection as a tool to inspire and give young people an insight of what it is really like to be in the RAF as a firefighter.”

To donate and see more of Steven’s collection click here: www.firemuseum.uk