Pelham, Calera make bids for new fire museum

By BRAD GASKINS and NEAL WAGNER / Staff Writer and City Editor

Pelham and Calera are looking to one day house the collection of firefighting memorabilia a Shelby County resident has been collecting for the past 40 years.

County Manager Alex Dudchock said the museum will eventually be one of the top fire museums in the country.

Pelham and Calera were the only two municipalities to submit proposals to have the museum located within their city limits, Dudchock said.

Pelham Mayor Don Murphy said the museum could bring more tourism to the city, and could complement the city’s current offerings.

“We feel it could really benefit the city of Pelham. We are looking out of the box on this one,” Murphy said. “It’s potentially a really good thing for the city of Pelham.

“We have more hotels and restaurants than a lot of the other cities, so we thought it would work great,” Murphy added. “I’m excited to talk to the county about it.”

A minimum four acres of land is needed, according to the county’s department of development services. Construction will be in phases, with an initial space requirement of 15,000 to 20,000 square feet.

The master plan calls for an eventual 40,000-square-foot building to house the private collection of Joseph “J.D.” King, a former Birmingham firefighter.

King, 69, approached the county in November 2009, wanting to know if the county was interested in displaying his collection of fire apparatuses, toys and memorabilia for public use.

King, who lives in Shelby County, was a firefighter for 25 years. He has collected fire memorabilia for 40 years.

The extent of his collection, which includes 11 restored fire trucks, was known only to a few close friends, King said.

“I’m into children’s education, and primarily want to preserve this for posterity and history,” said King, who counts a 1926 American LaFrance Pumper Chain Drive, a 1936 Autocar and a 1939 Packard Light among his restored trucks.

In addition, King has what he said is one of the top collections of fire toys in the world.

The county, in December 2010, signed a memorandum of understanding with King and wife Bobbie. Their collection would be transferred to the county when construction of the museum is determined and approved.

“We were excited that we had someone like Mr. and Mrs. King interested in making available to the county to preserve what they have been interested in for some time for a museum,” Dudchock said.

The county has also had conversations with other private collectors, including at least one in Mississippi, looking for a potential home for their assets.

“We think this is an excellent opportunity,” Dudchock said. “We would like to grow it.”

Dudchock said the best fire museum facility is in Phoenix, Ariz.

“It would be our goal to be at and/or exceed the Hall of Flame fire museum that is in Phoenix, Arizona,” he said. “That’s the national leader.”

Dudchock said the county will move forward within the next three to five weeks. The proposals will be opened, evaluated and eventually discussed by the county commission in a work session.

The county will help build the museum with funds from lodging tax revenues. The county may provide some level of operational assistance from lodging tax revenues, according to development services.

King said he would like to think he has some say in the future of the project. If not, King said he has “110 percent faith” in Dudchock and the county to move the project forward.