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Retired firefighters bring old fire engine back to life at Romford station after 36 years out of service

PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 November 2017

Ex fire fighter volunteers have restored the 1964 fire engine back to how it was. Mike West dressed in the uniform of the period

Ex fire fighter volunteers have restored the 1964 fire engine back to how it was. Mike West dressed in the uniform of the period

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Retired firefighters have been working to restore a vintage fire engine back to its former glory and will now continue their hard work at Romford fire station. Hayley Anderson finds out more about the vehicle’s history and how much work has gone into the project.

Ex fire fighter volunteers have restored the 1964 fire engine back to how it was. Ex fire fighter volunteers have restored the 1964 fire engine back to how it was.

When we think back to the difficult times in our lives, we remember the people that helped us get through them.

But having served the London Fire Brigade for 16 years, one particular fire engine has been called out to help with some of the most memorable incidents.

From the Chelsea Women’s Hospital going up in flames in 1976, to the blaze during the height of the Iranian Embassy siege on May 5, 1980, the fire engine – better known to many as a 1964 Merryweather 100ft turntable ladder – has seen more than most.

Turntable ladders are traditionally used as hearses at the funeral of fallen firefighters, and the Merryweather carried Paul Carvosso, one of the five who were killed during the oil tank explosion at Dudgeons Wharf, Isle of Dogs in July 1969.

Firefighters in the 70s at the Southwark Training Centre. The 1964 Merryweather 100ft turntable ladder is the fire engine in the middle. Picture: 240FLM Preservation Group Firefighters in the 70s at the Southwark Training Centre. The 1964 Merryweather 100ft turntable ladder is the fire engine in the middle. Picture: 240FLM Preservation Group

A procession of five turntable ladders made its way through east London watched by thousands who lined the streets to pay their respects.

The vehicle retired in 1981 and its whereabouts was unknown, so when members of the London Fire Brigade Retirees Facebook group saw it was up for sale on eBay four years ago, it got many of the ex-firefighters thinking.

Peter Weight, who served for 27 years, said: “The LFB (London Fire Brigade) only bought six of these kind of turntable ladders and the others have been destroyed and taken apart, so we were definitely surprised.

“Someone joked about buying it ourselves so we can restore it but over the next few weeks, people became a lot more serious about the idea.”

The turntable ladder was sold via a car dealership in Gloucestershire once it retired from the emergency service and although little is known about what happened to it over the past 36 years, it was owned by a tree surgeon for a period of time.

The Merryweather ended up in the hands of a vehicle enthusiast in the West Midlands who was more than happy to sell it to the retired firefighters.

Peter said: “The owner said he couldn’t not give it to us, after hearing that we wanted to make it as good as new again.

“Some engines are used at the bigger incidents more than most and this particular turntable ladder saw a lot during those 16 years. I remember working with it at New Cross fire station when I first started and I’m not the only one that remembers it so this project has become quite important to us.”

The group – made up of around 70 retired firefighters – formed a committee and over the past few years, have been working on getting it back up and running in a barn in Cambridgeshire where one of the members lived.

But when the group member announced he was moving house, the engine needed to be moved as well.

Peter said: “We asked everyone we could think of, because we didn’t want to let all of our hard work go to waste.

“Eventually we got in contact with the LFB commissioner Dany Cotton and she was more than happy to store it at a London fire station.”

The turntable made its way to its permanent home at Romford fire station at the weekend, where the group will continue to mend it back to full health.

It will be used for special events such as public open days at the station as well as help educate the London Fire Cadets.

Romford and Hornchurch station manager Colin Digby said: “Both myself and borough commander Paul Hobbs are grateful to the commissioner for allowing the restored vehicle to be housed in Romford and it will be a great talking point, especially with the young groups we have visiting the station.

“The hard work and dedication the former firefighters have put into bringing the turntable ladder has been fantastic and I’m sure it will attract a lot of attention which will help us educate the public more about the work we do today.”

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