- Bourne in past times -
FIGHTING FIRES ON PINTS OF BEER
by Rex Needle
THE FIRE BRIGADE we know today is taken for granted as a necessary part of our emergency services but the public could not always depend on such a speedy and efficient means of protecting life and property.
There was a fire brigade in Bourne as early as 1815, administered by the local fire insurance companies who owned a manual water pump. Those who paid insurance premiums for protection against fire were given a metal plaque or mark bearing the name and logo of the particular company that was attached to the outside of the premises and the building could then be easily identified by the brigade in the event of a fire although all others were usually ignored.
But this did not prove to be a satisfactory arrangement because the appliance and equipment were often poorly maintained through lack of funds and in 1874 an Act of Parliament transferred responsibility for its upkeep to the Vestry Meeting which was then in charge of parish affairs, empowering the overseers of the poor to finance its future upkeep out of the local rate.
This was a welcome change for Bourne where the existing fire engine was forty years old and in a poor condition, some of the valves did not work satisfactorily while all of the fire buckets were worn out and several of the pipes leaked. A fire brigade committee was appointed consisting of the churchwardens, the overseers of the poor and the officials of the various insurance companies in the town, and their first task was to order a detailed report with a view to having repairs carried out on the appliance and equipment in order that they were brought up to standard immediately.
Responsibility for the fire brigade was taken over by Bourne Urban District Council soon after it was formed in 1899 when the horse-drawn pump was kept underneath one of the arches of the Town Hall. It was at first a manual appliance requiring crews of four men working each side of the pump and delivering a single jet of water. When the firemen became tired with their pumping, bystanders were recruited to take over and paid one shilling an hour although some fire engines rewarded these occasional volunteers in beer and carried a barrel of ale on the fire engine specifically for this purpose.
In 1900, the council bought a horse drawn steam pump manned by twelve volunteers and capable of delivering two or more jets and firemen proudly posed outside the Town Hall with the appliance wearing smart new uniforms with brass helmets, leather belts and boots. A pair of grey horses used to pull the appliance were stabled in the yard of the Bull public house next door, now the Burghley Arms, and were shared by local undertakers who also used them for their hearse.
It operated efficiently for several years but problems with the water pressure became apparent in 1907 when it was sent back to the makers for repair but on return it was in tip-top form sending a single jet as high as the church tower.
In 1928, a Dennis trailer pump was purchased and this was towed by a lorry borrowed from a local firm. When there was a blaze, firemen were summoned to duty by a brass fire bell on the chimney of the Bull that was rung by pulling a rope with a pulley wheel but placed high enough to be out of the reach of mischievous children. By this time, volunteer firemen were being paid one shilling (5p) for every hour spent fighting a blaze and the annual cost to the council at this time was around £265 a year.
The steam engine was replaced in 1930 by the brigade's first motor tender towing the trailer pump with long ladders on the top and benches alongside the tender on which firemen sat while travelling to a fire. The arches under the Town Hall soon became inadequate accommodation and work on building the present fire station in South Street began in 1944 and improvements to the premises have been carried out over the years with the enlargement of the appliance room, new offices, a lecture room, muster bay and a bar and social room.
The National Fire Service was formed to meet the emergencies of the Second World War from 1939-45 but when the fire service was returned to local authority control in 1948, Bourne became part of the Kesteven Fire Brigade and had a complement of 20 men, all retained, including one station officer, one sub officer, four leading firemen and 14 firemen. By 1965, the brigade possessed three appliances, each carrying 400 gallons of water and was also equipped with foam and breathing apparatus.
The fire station was completely rebuilt and equipped in 1969 at a cost of £15,000 and included an appliance room, stores, repairs, muster and watch rooms, a station office, social clubroom and kitchen. The official opening was held on Thursday 11th September and was performed by Councillor Ted Kelby, immediate past chairman of Bourne Urban District Council, who unveiled a commemorative plaque. Figures released at the ceremony revealed that the Kesteven brigade had answered 15,000 calls in the previous 21 years and Bourne had dealt with one tenth of them.
In 1974, the brigade became part of Lincolnshire Fire Service following a nationwide re-organisation of local government and there has been a continuous development to the modern fire service we know today with constant upgrading of staff training, vehicles and equipment.
Today, the Bourne station is part of the Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service and is one of 38 in the county covering a total area of 2,237 square miles and equipped with the latest vehicles including fire pumps, hydraulic platforms, rescue tenders, water carriers and various other units.
They are manned by 900 firemen and staff, the majority of them being retained fire fighters who have full time jobs but attend on a call-out basis, alerted by bleepers when there is a fire or other emergencies because the brigade also turns out for other disasters including road accidents and air crashes. Unlike 200 years ago, therefore, life and property is now in good hands in the event of an emergency.
NOTE: This article was also published by The Local newspaper on Friday 29th June 2012.
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