As he approaches 80, the unofficial historian of London’s fire department worries about the future of his artifacts, photographs and memorabilia.

Hundreds of the materials are stuffed into Jim Fitzgerald’s basement and garage.

He’d like to find a permanent home for the collection — and thinks he’s found it.

Fitzgerald has his eyes on a former Adelaide St. firehall, where he once was a captain.

“I can’t get to first base with anybody on it,” he said of his plans for a proper museum, which he’s repeatedly pitched to city hall.

“Everybody says, ‘Great idea, great idea’ and it always dies.”

He thinks the old firehall built in 1909 is the perfect candidate.

Problem is, city hall sold the building to Life*Spin in 1999 and that group has since sold it again.

It’s now occupied by a clothing store.

Regardless, Fitzgerald, who joined the department at age 20 in 1955 and retired as chief in 1993, thinks something can be worked out.

The alternative, he said, is having to auction off his cache of material that dates back to a photo of London’s first firehall, opened in 1852.

His family is all about firefighting, so he’s still willing to fight.

His grandfather, Fred Fitzgerald, was a firefighter when horses pulled fire equipment.

His father, James Fitzgerald, served from 1927 to 1963, retiring as chief fire-prevention officer.

His son, Shawn, is an acting district fire chief.

“My father had a humungous collection I took over,” and firefighter widows contacted Fitzgerald to add to his material.

“Every piece I have, every picture, I can speak about,” he said.

Fitzgerald digs his material out for displays, including during Open Doors London events at firehalls.

“I get stopped by people constantly, saying where’s my display?,” he said.

Other cities have established fire museums, and he thinks London should follow. Etobicoke, for instance, donated an old firehall and $3 million to establish one there, he said.

Museums can also be found in Stratford and Cambridge. |

In the collection

  •  1800s leather fire buckets: Homeowners had to keep them filled with water and on their porches to respond to blazes.
  • 1927 American LaFrance ladder truck: Now housed in another firehall.
  • Hoses, nozzles, fire alarm boxes, boots, helmets and masks.
  • 500+ vintage photographs
  • A panoramic 1925 shot of all the department’s equipment, including seven London-built Ruggles fire trucks.

Source: Old London chief hot on fire museum | The London Free Press