It’s about the most imposing building in Van Wert, Ohio with its massive colonial façade, chandelier lit, Italian marbled floor entryway and its heavily mahogany paneled board room. The Central Insurance Company made its name selling fire insurance and the company hasn’t forgotten it. It can’t forget, the basement is full of reminders.
The Central Insurance Company’s Fire Museum is one of the largest private collections of firefighting equipment in the world. It began when former central CEO F. W. Purmort, Junior and his son bought on old Model ‘T’ Ford fire truck.
“And from there he just started finding pieces and going to auctions and people donated stuff,” says F. W.’s son and current CEO Bill Purmort. He says his dad was fascinated with firefighting history, beginning with colonial firefighters who formed bucket brigades using their own leather firefighting buckets. From buckets to horse drawn hand pumpers, like this one actually used in Van Wert in the 1870’s. And this magnificent steam pumper also used in Van Wert, all brass and chrome and stainless steel…an absolute work of art. In the 1920’s it was all replaced with a single truck.
“The ‘20’s marked the first time that all of the equipment and manpower and everything you needed to fight an emergency was going to the fire in one piece of equipment,” says Purmort.
The collection includes a huge array of antique toys, horse drawn pumpers, ladder trucks, fire engines. These lovely glass bottles don’t hold perfume, they’re antique fire grenades…toss the bottle at the fire, it breaks, spreading firefighting chemicals. This collection isn’t must a museum, it’s an acknowledgment of a debt owed to one class of laborer who has risked life and limb for centuries to protect society from a searing scourge; the ancient effort of fighting destructive fires and putting whole again what has been destroyed.
“It’s amazing what we’ve come from and what we are today and probably where we’re going,” says Purmort. “It’s all worth taking a look at and savoring and enjoying.”
Eric Olson reporting out in 21 Country.