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Fire, police museum complex a possibility

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Police Sgt. Karen Sue Martensen hopes to find a permanent home for these mannequins modeling police uniforms, as well as a 1946 paddy wagon and other memorabilia.

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Nearly every Saturday, Bob Schwanzl flips on the lights at the Toledo Firefighters Museum at former Fire Station 18 in West Toledo.

He glances at the vintage fire vehicles, including the prized 1837 Neptune - the city's first fire truck, and case upon case of memorabilia.

The museum board's president walks through the second floor where "Jed's Room," a simulated bedroom where children learn how to flee a burning house, is located. He strides past displays that contain thousands of fire patches and checks out the library that houses decades' worth of station log books and other historical items.

Expansion of the brick building and the fire department's public safety education programs, possibly to incorporate senior citizens, have been weighing on his mind.

But his mind was eased late last week when the museum bought four adjacent lots in the 900 block of West Sylvania Avenue to the corner of Walker Avenue containing two houses and other buildings for $125,000.

"We're very happy," the former deputy fire chief said.

So is city police Sgt. Karen Sue Martensen.

She and Mr. Schwanzl have been talking about the fire museum leasing or subleasing one of the buildings - which housed a plumbing business - for a police museum.

"This would be the only facility we know [with] a police and fire museum on one property," said Sergeant Martensen, president of the police museum board. "When kids visit, they could see everything. We have different experiences, yet work together. It would be wonderful."

Mr. Schwanzl agreed.

"We're excited about this expansion," he said. "This would be a very unique presence of safety forces in this block."

Mayor Jack Ford visited the fire museum April 4 and told City Council at its meeting the next day, "You know that building is very unique."

He said he would talk with the council to see if the city could give $25,000 from capital improvement funds toward the offering price. He said the fire museum, which doesn't charge admission, is expected to donate the land to the city. Mr. Schwanzl said the museum would then lease it back.

That's the current situation with the fire museum, which leases its property from the city for $1 a year.

Council President Louis Escobar said if Mayor Ford provides legislation about the museum money, council probably would give it "serious consideration."

The majority of the money used to buy the parcels came from voluntary payroll deductions from firefighters the last few years. Some of the firefighters' funds also went toward the purchase and restoration of an early 1880s vintage steamer.

Several years ago, the museum bought the Old House Tavern, which was sandwiched between the museum and the recently purchased lots. It was razed and the space is used for parking.

Sergeant Martensen said she would like to see whether police officers would be interested in donating a portion of their pay, even if it's 50 cents or a $1, for a police museum.

Since 1994, memorabilia - such as a 1948 paddy wagon, two motorcycles, and mannequins wearing old uniforms - have had no permanent home.

She said they've been stored in a small room at the Fraternal Order of Police hall in South Toledo and in the basement of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association near downtown.

Sergeant Martensen learned last week that the FOP will need the space for a charter school and has asked the police regalia be moved by June. That's around the same time the fire museum has asked that its newly acquired properties be cleaned out.

Mr. Schwanzl said the fire museum was renting the small house closest to the museum for storage. He said the house probably will be bulldozed sometime this summer. The neighboring building - the old business office - could be subleased for the police museum.

Now that the fire museum has bought the land, the next steps are to hire an architect to design the addition and to apply for grants and raise additional funds, Mr. Schwanzl said.

Contact Christina Hall at: chall@theblade.com or 419-724-6007.

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