After more than two years of inactivity, the Uppertown Firefighters Museum has reopened its doors.

The museum, which sits on the corner of 30th Street and Marine Drive in Astoria, will be open Saturdays for the foreseeable future.

“We owe it to this collection to give it a shot,”?said McAndrew Burns, director of the Clatsop County Historical Society.

The collection differs from many museums’ offerings, in that all the items on display were used to fight fires in Astoria between 1873 and 1963.

“This equipment was not collected,”?Burns said. “It was all used in Astoria.”

And some of the firefighters who used the saws and axes and ladders hanging from the walls are now volunteering weekly in the historic building.

Former local fire chiefs Lenard Hansen, 61, of Astoria, and Gene Mellott, 74, of Knappa, volunteered last Saturday, ready to share their stories with those who wandered through the open firehouse door.

Hansen, who retired last year, was instrumental in getting the museum reopened.

After Hansen’s retirement, “it seemed like the natural time,”?Burns said.

Hansen recognizes the rarity of the recently reopened space.

“This is kind of the diamond in the rough,”?he said. “We would like to see it grow to where it could be a first-class fire museum.”

The Uppertown building, which once housed the North Pacific Brewery, certainly boasts some rare items, including a horse-drawn “hook and ladder”?truck manufactured by the LaFrance Company of Elmira, N.Y. in 1876.

Burns called the hook and ladder truck the “prized jewel” of the collection. He said the 19th century truck is one of only three still in existence.

The museum features three motorized fire trucks:?the 1911 American LaFrance chemical wagon, the 1921 Stutz pumper – which arrived just in time to help fight the Great Astoria Fire of 1922 – and the 1945 Mack pumper engine.

The Mack is known as the “touch truck,”?because museum-goers are encouraged to touch the truck and even climb atop it.

The artifcats on display are vestiges of a different era – one that firefighters like Hansen and Mellott saw firsthand.

“It’s a different ballgame than it was then,”?Hansen said. “In those days, the fire department was a social thing, playing cards. If you just happened to stand by and the siren’s going, you’d just jump on the rig.”?

Hansen and Mellott met when the former was the fire chief in Tongue Point. Hansen recruited Mellott, who was in charge of the electronics shop for the U.S. Coast Guard, to lend him a hand.

“He handed me a helmet and a coat and said, ‘Let’s teach you how to fight fires,’” Mellott said.

Hansen learned to fight fires at a very young age. As a child, Hansen lived across the street from the Lewis and Clark fire station. And when the siren would go off, he would “stand by the telephone pole until someone would take him across the street,”?Mellott said.

When asked when he started operating water pumps – when he really started fighting fires – Hansen thought about it for a second.

“I’ll be generous and say that I was probably 8 years old,”?he said.

By 12, Hansen was the fire chief of the Lewis and Clark Fire District. Even eight years later, when Hansen and Mellott met, Hansen was still so young that he endured his share of ribbing.

“We called him ‘Chiefy Wiefy,”?Mellott said. “He ain’t no fire chief, he’s Chiefy Wiefy!”

Stories like these are what Burns had in mind when talks of reopening the Uppertown Firefighters Museum began. Burns has toyed with the idea of a panel discussion at the museum.

The format would be loose: “Turn them loose for an audience, let them argue and tell jokes,”?Burns said.

Hansen and Mellott, both of whom are Lions’ members and Astoria Trolley operators, have already seen an encouraging level of community excitement.

“A couple weeks ago, we had our first meeting,”?Mellott said. “The door was open. Two firefighters and their wives asked, ‘Are you open?’”

They are, from noon to 3 p.m. every Saturday. Admission is free, though a small donation is encouraged.

   

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