GO TO BLAZES!
“WATER AND GUTS.”
1983 was the 150th anniversary of the Stalham Fire Brigade. I was invited to write a commemorative book, duly published as “150 Years of Service.” (Opposite, the original 1833 Fire Station, now the village Fire Service Museum).
During the research I developed a great respect for the part-time volunteers who man the station. I also came to realise how much we take them for granted…
A COLD, FEBRUARY NIGHT.
“That’s a daft time to be having a bonfire!” Peering throught the thick fog rolling up from the nearby Rivar Ant, a passing motorist is just able to makes out a blaze at a roadside farm.
He rouses the farmer who promptly dials 999
The message is taken by the Norfolk County Fire Service switchboard at Hethersett. Contact is simultaneously made with the closest brigade…Stalham. Twenty miles away, alerters bleep insistently in eight homes. In two of them, covers are thrown off beds and in all of them, family life comes to an abrupt halt.
The first of the Retained crew reaches the Staithe Road fire station, pulling up at the big front door. Immediately switching on the lights, he reaches for the telephone.
The rest of the crew have arrived. Snatching their fire-fighting gear from the muster bay they are on the appliance. The driver has already disconnected the otherwise permanently fixed battery charger.
All aboard, the red and silver machine is swinging out of the station and making for the right-hand sweep onto the village by-pass and the road to the fire.
The farm is reached.
The driver pulls up in the yard, as near to the blaze as possible. The seven-man team get to work, by now dressed in over-trousers, rubber boots, fire jackets yellow helmets with their Norfolk Fire Service crests.
With their thorough knowledge of the local area, there has been no need to consult a register to find the nearest hydrant or water supply.
In pulling up, the driver had already engaged the pump as the two side reels are run out.
The situation is assessed at a glance. The piggery is alight.
Two of the crew attend to the hose. Two others enter the building to be confronted by squealing sows and piglets-promptly rounded up and evacuated.
A second appliance from North Walsham arrives on “pre-determined attendance” to offer back up assistance if required. On this occasion it is not.
The fire is under control.
Time to ascertain its cause, in this case straightforward-a faulty infra-red heater.
Confident that there is no chance of a further outbreak, the Stalham men can begin to stow their equipment.
Another satisfied customer, but their night is far from over. The water must be replenished before returning to the station.
Back at the station, the appliance is having to be washed down and all equipment returned to readiness for the call that could come at any time.
The first man to have reached the station two and a half hours before is back home.
Farm workers, nurserymen, civil servants, store men, they provide 168 hours a week of instant protection form the worst effects of fire. Risking injury , even death in service to the community they continue a tradition now going back 184 years to the days of Captain Swing and rick burning.
One time sub officer, the late Sid Lowe and one of the men I have most respected in my 45 years in Stalham…
”The times might change and the equipment might change but in the end IT’S STILL DOWN TO GUTS AND WATER!”
Finally, in memory of those of the Norfolk Fire Service who have given their lives since 1942...
Senior Company Officer Sam Bussey.
Fireman Albert Read,
Fireman Gordon Minister,
Divisional Officer Gordon Dix,
Leading Fireman Herbert Durrant.
Fireman John Holman.
Ah, yes...the Irishman, his single choice and the leprechaun from last week's blog... Sight for his mother? Child for his wife? Wealth to satisfy his father?
"I wish that my mother might see my wife rocking my son in a cradle of Gold"