10 October 2008

By Gavriel Hollander

COMMENTS THAT question the future of the Southwark-based London Fire Brigade museum have been deemed ‘insulting’ by campaigners fighting to save it.

As the 'News' reported last month, Brian Coleman, the chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), told the London Assembly's budget and performance committee that the museum, opened on its historic site nearly 50 years ago, could be axed in a bid to cut costs.

His remarks that "it is not a museum that is fit for purpose or that in my view contributes anything," and that "once you have seen one brass helmet you have seen them all" have been branded "insulting" by campaigners who have started a petition to save the museum.

Former firefighter Murray Beale is a volunteer at the Winchester House Site.

He believes the closure of the museum would sever an important link with the past for the people of Southwark and London as a whole.

"He said it's not fit for purpose but it's a cracking museum," said Beale. "So many school kids come through here, so it's important for education too."

Speaking of Coleman's comments, Beale said: "The brass helmet is an icon of fire fighters.

“It stands for something, so for him to say that is an outrageous insult and he knows it."

The LFEPA is expected to discuss options regarding next year's fire brigade budget, including the potential closure of the museum, at a meeting on November 20.

It is believed that the authority will seek to make a total of £6m of savings across the service. The annual cost of running the museum is around £80,000.

Navin Shah, lead member of the Labour group on the LFEPA, expressed his anger that Coleman's views had been aired so freely before next month's meeting.

"We're not even supposed to discuss this until November," said Shah. "It is for the authority as a whole to decide what they want to do as part of the bigger picture.

"Brian Coleman's statement was totally unnecessary and it is only his personal view, not that of the authority.
“He is chairing the authority but he does not have executive powers.

"I condemn any type of propaganda that causes worry or anxiety that the museum will be closed down.

"There is a history of over 300 years and it has a major role in education. We have to look at every possible way to make it viable so it is used by as many people as possible. That is what I will be looking for."

A brigade spokesperson said: "The London Fire Brigade is currently looking at a range of options for the museum, and a paper will be presented to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority for their decision in due course."

The museum, which includes exhibits from the Tooley Street Fire of 1861, currently attracts around 5,000 visitors every year.

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