Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Curatorial Corner - 25th January 2012


The Curatorial team headed up to Birmingham last week to spend three days at the West Midlands Fire Service Acadamy.  The team were attending an Emergency Salvage course run by English Heritage.  The course was designed to provide pratical skills in saving important historical objects from museums and historic houses in the event of a fire or flood.

Flooding at the mock Museum

Day 1 involved being kitted up in firefighter uniforms.  A mock museum was set up inside the training firehouse and the hoses were turned on to simulate a flood - in this case gallons of water pouring through the roof!  The members on the course were tasked with trying to divert the flood using tarpauling, ladders, ropes and mops.  It was a hard task, but lots of really useful tips were gained.  Making a water shoot from two ladders and a piece of tarpauling is a simple way of diverting a huge flow of water!

STEAMs Curator, Felicity, (centre) kitted
up and ready to enter the mock Museum

Next came the slightly scary part.  The breathing apparatus.  Putting on the masks and oxygen cylinders felt very claustrophobic and heavy, but the experience was eye-opening.  Entering a smoke filled building was scary, but it gave a real understanding of what firefighters are faced with when entering a burning building.  Everyone on the course found it a great experience, but were glad to de-kit and have a lovely hot shower!

STEAMs Collections Officer, Elaine, making
 an inventory of salvaged objects

Day 2 was the day a real emergency was scheduled to happen at the mock Museum.  In the morning specific roles were given out and the team were briefed on what would unfold.  STEAM's Curator, Felicity, was going to be on the salvage team (tasked to enter the Museum and salvage objects) and Elaine, STEAM's Collections Officer, was to be the Documentation Officer.  There was also a recovery team, Press Officer and Quartermaster.  As the emergency unfolded a fire crew from a local station attended.  A 'fire' at the mock Museum had taken hold and the crew were quickly inside to put it out.  The fire crew were then given a list of items held in the mock Museum that were a priority to save.  The inside of the Museum was wet, black and smokey.  It was very difficult for the fire crew and salvage team to see which items were which.  However all the priority items were salvaged, in fact ALL the items were salvaged.  Once out of the Museum they were passed to the recovery team who documented each item and assessed their condition.  Wet items were put to dry, and dry items were safely boxed and sent to store.  The whole exercise took three hours to complete.  Everyone was thoroughly exhausted by 5pm.

Day 3 was a day of reflection.  The debrief in the morning allowed everyone to reflect on the previous days activities.  What went right, what went wrong - it was a definate learning curve.  But all agreed that the skills that would be taken back to respective museums and historic houses would be invaluable.  It also provided extra confidence if a situation arose.

To sum up, the course was great.  It was fun, informative and certainly challenging.  The Curatorial team at STEAM came away with new confidence and new skills.  If an emergency arose the Museum would be prepared - but lets just keep our fingers crossed it doesn't.

More Pictures Below... 

The Fire Crew turn up

The Fire Crew set up their equipment

The course team prepare for action!

Boxing up the objects ready for storage

Drying 'archive' material on a washing line

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