This section is from the book "Modern Buildings, Their Planning, Construction And Equipment Vol6", by G. A. T. Middleton. Also available from Amazon: Modern Buildings.
(Contributed by Hedley C. Queree)
The pride and aim of a Fire Brigade is to arrive at the scene of conflagration as quickly as possible from the time that the call has been sent in. The method of call differs largely, - in some cases it is received at the police station and then transmitted to the chief officer, but in the majority of cases the call is sent to the fire station direct, and this is certainly the most logical method where a fireman is continually on duty. In a well-equipped station, such as that at Aldershot, designed by Mr. C. E. Hutchinson, A.R.I.B.A., and illustrated in Plate VI., it is customary for the chief officer to have his house on the premises, in which case his living room can sometimes serve the purpose of call office, though it is better to have a special room devoted to the purpose, as at Aldershot. There is again the question of firemen. In London these frequently live in their own quarters on the premises, and are continually within call, except when away on special leave. In the provinces, however, this is different, as the cost of such a permanent establishment would not be justified by the number of turn-outs. Here the men would be located in houses in the neighbourhood, and be employed under the Corporation or by such firms as would have no objection to the men leaving when a call to attend a fire was received. It thus follows that the London Brigade and those of other large cities have the advantage of turning out in quicker time than provincial brigades; although in all stations the aim should be to have everything in connection with horses, engines, and men in such a state of readiness that no unnecessary time will be wasted, and all so fixed that there will be no confusion or cross traffic.
Let us briefly follow what takes place in an electrically fitted Metropolitan Fire Brigade Station. The call may come from the street alarm well known to most of us, which gives the following information - "Break the glass, pull knob, wait for engine," or else from such as (Fig. 159) where, as soon as the glass is broken, a bell automically rings in the station, and the indicator shows from which post the alarm comes. A call may also be received from one of the neighbouring stations, or from any public institution, such as a hospital, asylum, theatre, etc., or from any building which may be in direct telephonic communication with the fire station. On hearing the bell the duty man at once goes to a board (Fig. 160), attends to the telephone message, resets the automatic push, and at the same time pushes an electric button which sets call bells ringing in each of the firemen's dwellings. This board contains a separate push-button for each man should he only be required. A switch is also provided to cut off the current when a fireman is not to be called out on duty.
The pressing of the button would act on electric magnets placed on the station and stable doors, which would release the bolts and allow the doors to swing open by means of springs. The horses, trained to their work, set themselves free by the forward movement and rush to their places, one on each side of the engine pole, above which the collars, traces, and reins are suspended - the horses being always ready bridled when on duty, and the stalls being so planned that the horses stand facing doors which open direct from their stalls to the engine house (see Plate VI.). The firemen, in the meantime, on hearing the call bell, have donned their garments, and, if resident on the premises, have ascended by the staircase or slid down the brass pole, leading from the upper to the ground floor, where they go to their respective hooks, put on their uniform, helmet, top-boots, belt and axe. The collar is then fixed over the horse's neck and secured by a patent spring lock, the men jump on the engine, the driver shakes out the reins, and the horses gallop out of the stations after a very short interval from the time when the call bell was rung. The horse or hand escapes would follow in turn as they were required.
To return to the duty man, whom we left ringing up the firemen. He would pull the cord to stop the ringing of the call bell, ring up the head stations of the adjoining districts and local police station, sending telephonic messages as to the locality of fire, and would if necessary at the same time send a message through to headquarters.
The procedure in a provincial fire station is the same in principle, but may differ in detail. In all cases the telephone-call apparatus would be connected with each man's dwelling, but the fireman would come ready equipped with helmet, belt and axe. In London, horses are continually kept on the premises ready for a turn-out, whilst in a provincial town, where there may be only one or two dozen calls in a year, it is not feasible to adopt this plan, and an arrangement is generally agreed upon with a job-master so that the required number of horses for steamer and escapes, with their respective coachmen, will always be supplied when required. For this purpose the telephone apparatus is so arranged that the alarm bell may be caused to ring in the coachmen's rooms; and they generally sleep on the stable premises when engaged for this special work.
In many of the provincial towns, such as Exeter, Stafford, etc., the water supply is quite sufficient, in both quantity and pressure, for it to be allowable to connect the hose to the hydrant direct, and therefore the steamer is only requisitioned when the fire is at some distance away and water has to be sent through by force. In a town of small extent a hand escape and hose-cart will be all that is required, but in a larger town which has a sufficient water pressure for hydrant work a horse escape and hose-cart is generally used, to be followed by hand escapes and hose-carts. For this purpose a horse is kept on the premises, and is supplied by a job-master under special agreement.