Musee Des Pompiers 2 Rotated

The fireman collector keeps the flame burning

Opened in June 2019, the Centre Historique du monde Sapeur-Pompier (Historical Center of the Firefighting World) in the Felet area of Thiers boasts a 1,500 sq. m. surface area and an outstanding collection. Antique vehicles from France and all over the world. But also documents, equipment, gear, helmets, even miniatures and toys. The Center offers a complete immersion in the world of the men of fire.

At the historic center of the firefighting world, in Thiers

This collection for the general public would not have been possible without the determination of Didier Lambert. Indeed, the current founder is President of the European Firefighters Museum Association (Efma), which manages the historic center. He knows the business well. “I became a volunteer fireman in Thiers in 1974. After being spotted as a first-aider with the Red Cross,” recalls the now 62-year-old.

A true enthusiast, Didier Lambert keeps the memory of firefighters alive. At the Centre Historique du monde Sapeur-Pompier, in Thiers. It was in a Laffly truck that Didier Lambert made his baptism of fire: ” It was on rue Lasteyras. At the time, you could leave for an operation within a quarter of an hour of signing up,” smiles Didier Lambert. I was sent to get some equipment, which I didn’t find. I was quickly made to understand that I had to find it as soon as possible!

Landing 44 and Stan Laurel

Not entirely coincidentally, almost 45 years later, the same Laffly is now part of the Centre Historique collection. “It’s a 6-cylinder petrol engine with cable brake. It had the best power-to-weight ratio of its time,” explains Didier Lambert. It could climb the streets of Thiers without any problem, even with 12 men on board “.

So, with the Efma association, the enthusiast spent a large part of his weekends restoring this model, which was used in Ambert.

The engine had to be rebuilt,” he explains simply. A trifle, almost. In view of the five years it took to refurbish another of the museum’s masterpieces: the 1941 Ford Howe Us Navy ” the only one of its kind in Europe “, the president points out.

From the Ford TT belonging to Stan Laurel of the Laurel and Hardy duo. To the Dodge LaFrance that took part in the Normandy landings. Each room in the Centre Historique has its own unique story. Full of anecdotes, Didier Lambert evokes the very vocation of the museum.

Perhaps as much as the objects, what interests us here are the stories. If we don’t know how and by whom these machines were used, there’s no point.

Before 1996, it was all about getting by

Behind the vehicles, the 400 helmets on display and the collection of firefighters’ outfits from all over the world, hovers the shadow of the men and women who made up the fire brigade, including Didier Lambert. These firefighters of a bygone era, whose spirit of resourcefulness seemed to match their courage.

“Some communes made do with what was available. Old trucks, for example, could be transformed by the village boilermaker or the firefighters themselves”, explains Didier Lambert, pointing to an improbable Dodge WC 52 (used for the 1944 landings) which ended its career in the commune of La Forie near Ambert until the 1990s.

Since then, administration has come and gone, levelling out much of the charm of an era. “With the departmentalization in 1996, everything was standardized,” laments Didier Lambert, willingly nostalgic. Aware of his duty to remember, the collector has every intention of keeping these sirens of the past ringing for as long as possible, before giving way. “History must go on,” he simply hopes.

Practical information: the Centre Historique du monde Sapeur-Pompier is located in the Felet industrial zone, 13, rue du Pré-de-la-Pie, Thiers. Information: 06 07 05 97 70


 Yann Terrat, journalist - La Gazette de Thiers-Ambert

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