November 17, 2007 in Voices

Couple share Fire Memories

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by DAN PELLE photo

Carolyn and Robert Green have opened Fire Memories Inc., a museum on Jennings Road near Cheney.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

» Fire Memories Inc. is open by appointment only.

» Call 235-2888 for more information, or visit www.firememories.org.

A new museum has moved into the outskirts of Cheney, piece by piece from California.

Robert and Carolyn Green, recent transplants from the Golden State have been collecting bits and pieces and large chunks of the history of fighting fires. They have now opened up Fire Memories Inc., a museum of more than 2,000 items to the public by appointment.

The Greens met and dated back in high school. Since Robert was a year older, the two went their own ways and soon lost contact – she as a school principal and he as a battalion chief in the California Department of Forestry.

The two met up again after the death of Carolyn’s first husband. Robert came to visit her and saw that she had a model fire engine on one of her shelves.

That was when the couple realized they had a mutual passion for all things related to fighting fires. They said that once they started collecting items for the museum, people began to give them different pieces.

“We adore it,” Carolyn said of their museum.

The Greens have been married for 10 years and are still excited about their Fire Memories Museum, at 3311 W. Jennings Road, Cheney.

They greet visitors in old-fashioned helmets and bright-red shirts with shiny silver buttons. They show off the antique badges they have pinned to their shirts.

In California, they welcomed hundreds of visitors from all over the world into their museum. They hosted a retirement party for a firefighter, educated new fire fighters of their history and welcomed school children.

“We really enjoy the opportunity of working with children,” Carolyn Green said.

They have even set up a corner of their museum with firefighter-themed toys and give children a toy helmet and a lollipop that says “Help Lick Fires.”

In the years before moving to Cheney, the two set up a display at the local Applebee’s in Palm Desert, Calif., where many of the items they collected are still on display. They also donated items to the historical society in Palm Desert which is in an old fire station.

In order to be closer to Carolyn’s daughter who lives in Spokane, the two pulled up stakes and moved to the Inland Northwest.

They found 20-acres outside Cheney about a year ago. It has taken them many trips back and forth to haul all of the items in their museum, and they had to construct the building.

A tour will include history about how many fire departments got started. Robert Green said that in the 19th century, fire departments were funded by insurance companies. In fact, the companies would pay the first fire house on the scene of a fire, so fist fights often broke out between the different fire houses.

The two have thousands of patches from different states, cities and countries.

There is a collection of helmets, some of which date back to the 1880s and are made of leather. Some are made of plastic and the numbers on them have been blistered due to the extreme heat of fires. A few more are aluminum.

The Greens spent countless hours researching each piece of equipment, so they have an extensive knowledge of different pieces of equipment.

There is a section of the wall dedicated to different kinds of extinguishers – many of them grenades that could be taken from the wall and thrown into a fire. They are still filled with their original chemicals. Many of the extinguishers are bright and shiny copper-colored wall units that could weigh up to 70 pounds.

There are also pretty, cut-glass bottles filled with salt water to appeal to women needing an extinguisher in the house. When a fire broke out, the bottles could be thrown on the fire to break and help douse it.

There are nozzles and trumpets and badges, fire alarms and old lanterns. There is even a small library with couches.

But what seems to take up the most room are the antique fire engines – from a 1924 Model T Ford to a much more modern fire engine the couple recently purchased from the Cheney Fire Department.

One thing you won’t see in the museum, however, is a fireman’s pole.

Robert said that the poles could be dangerous, since firefighters usually used them in the dark after being awakened from a deep sleep. Many times the firefighters didn’t move away from the pole quickly enough after sliding down and were hit by the next guy coming down. Sometimes they missed the pole entirely and fell right through the hole.

“I want a pole,” Carolyn said.

The museum is a nonprofit organization that takes donations as admission. The Greens are just happy to share their knowledge with others and are proud of the fire fighters of the world.

“The lives that they’ve saved,” Carolyn said, “It’s a story that goes on forever.”

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