The role of the firefighter carrying out their operational commitments has changed very little over the years, emergency calls are dealt with in much the same way, what has changed is the firefighters role when not engaged in operational commitments.
During the thirty years between 1960 -1994 there has been vast changes in the day to day work routine of the firefighter, for example back in 1964 all station maintenance and cleaning was carried out by the personnel on the station, firefighters were employed for fighting fires, but most were skilled tradesmen and great demands were placed on their particular skills. Part of the station routine was the day to day maintenance of station buildings and adjoining firefighters houses, also regular repair maintenance of the Brigades fleet of vehicles was carried out in a fully equipped workshop under the supervision of a full time engineer/ firefighter. All emergency calls were dealt with in a fully equipped watch room/control room by firefighters working on a rota system.
Todays firefighter carries out very little maintenance. The work on station buildings is overseen by the County Property Services Department, who employ local contractors. The repair and maintenance of the Stations fleet is monitored by the Brigades Engineering and Transport Dept, with the actual repairs and servicing being carried out by Lancashire County Central Vehicle Maintenance unit. All emergency calls are dealt with by one Control Room for the whole of Lancashire which then consisted of 40 Fire Stations.
One of the benefits of these changes is that firefighters are released to carry out a more wider role in fire safety and training. Also the operational commitment has increased over the years. In 1964 emergency calls numbered under 1000 for the year, conpared with 3500 for the year 1993-1994. Back in 1964 no fire safety inspections were carried out by operational firefighters , the Fire Safety Department in those days comprised of: 1 Assistant Divisional Officer and 1 Firefighter, todays Fire Safety commitment is on a much larger scalewith firefighters carrying out 681 inspections a year and the full tme Fire Safety Department comprising of: Assistant Divisional Officer, 5 Station Officers 1 Leading Firefighter and a civilian Clerical Officer,
Training in 1964 consisted of two periods of two hours on Mon and Thurs morning with lecture periods on nights. Training in 1994 comprises of 45 mins of physical training and 2 hours drill every morning with training and lectures in the evening. Also for good measure a Divisional Exercise will be thrown at night or at weekend. In addition to on station training firefighters will be required to attend the Brigades Training Centre for specialist training in fire safety, emergency vehicle advanced driver training and breathing apparatus courses.
As a young firefighter you guessed it all I wanted to do, was yes be the hero and put fires out, but no I remember the tedium associated with the day to day work routine of my early days.
Consisted of polishing brass hose couplings of which we carried 30 lengths on each of the fire engines. The hose was unrolled and both couplings polished with metal polish, the hose then remade up and restowed on the fire engine. On alternative weeks the stations reserve stock in the Hose Room was done the same way. We carried 75mm canvas rubber line hose which had to washed and dried every time it was used, hence every fire station had a drying tower.
This was more commonly called ‘slob out day’ because every room, nook and cranny was cleaned from top to bottom . Red razzle polished floors and no electric polishers, Yes! mop and bucket brigade, not Fire Brigade. Who was it that said the old days were the best.
Soul destruction day I used to call it. Window cleaning inside and out, I recall that there used to be twelve windows in each pair of appliance room doors, 12 appliance room doors, simple arithmetic makes 144 windows outside, inside as well makes 288 windows and that was just the appliance room. Now you no why I called it soul destruction day. One glimmer of hope for the day was the consumption of a home made sticky bun and a cup of tea when we cleaned the Chief Officers house windows.
Drill day which usually consisted of a Wheeled Escape drill and carry down, (Yes we did live body carry downs in them days ) and a lowering down drill with the Turntable Ladder from 90ft up the Training Tower. (Again with a live body) We very rarely used water, all drills were dry drills and appliances were pushed onto the drill ground. I recall the Deputy Chief Officer timing us with a stop watch whilst we carried out Escape drills. It was not unusual to be given Squad drill (marching) for 30 minutes or so before drill commenced. 11 o’clock , yes you guessed it 15 minutes tea break and back to cleaning offices, watch room ect, ect.
Fire Engines, Yes, brass work every piece of equipment was made of brass and it had to be cleaned. Two men, one table, a gal tin of metal polish and one Fire Engine from 0900 hours to 1700 hours you cleaned and polished and to top it, the Deputy Chief Officer would collar you with a piece of equipment and order you to write two pages of foolscap paper about that particular item. We very soon became wise when we heard the door from his office open and close, it was our cue to listen for him walking down the front of the appliance room . The Appliance Room Formation Dance Team swung into action. Simultaneously each team slowly walked in reverse round the rear of each Fire Engine, whilst he walked past the front. I can tell you Strictly Come Dancing would have been proud of us.
Yes, Saturday morning just to make sure that the station was clean, we did it again, just a repeat of Tues ‘slop out’. One of the good things about weekend, we used to get stand down from lunchtime, which was great if you was not confined on Watch Room duties or as it is called these days Control Room duties.
Sunday mornings consisted of a 1(1)d visit to a local risk by half of the watch whilst the other half attempted to draw a plan of the premises in your womb personnel exercise book. Each firefighters book was checked on a regular basis by the Station Officer in charge, to make sure that you had completed the plan of the premises. Also at weekends and nights, firefighters had to provide meals for the watch , these were cooked on a coke solid fuel cooking range and I can tell you there were ingenious methods of getting it hot enough to cook chips. On more than one occasion I saw trays of sausages being washed under the water tap because they had been dropped in the coke storage box. To give you some idea how difficult it was to cook on the range the kettle had to be put on at 5 o’clock in the morning so that it was boiling in time for breakfast at 7 o’clock.
Usually comprised of Breathing Apparatus training, maths and English lectures by outside instructors, lectures by Watch Officers and yes more brass polishing, poles and door handles on Fri nights.
How times have changed in today’s service the day starts with Fire Engine and equipment checks followed by 45 minutes physical training At 10 o’clock practical drill sessions take place with a break for a brew at 11 o’clock, it depended on which side of the bed the Watch Officer got out of as whether you carry on with drill after brew or not, but usually the allocation of the days Fire Safety Inspection takes place with a short time allocated to arrange appointments and study case files. Lunchtime 1230 until 1300 then it’s out to undertake Fire Safety Inspections,1(1)d, Inspections (Risk Assessment), Hydrant Inspections, School visits, talks to many other organisations. You may have noticed that I not mentioned ‘Fires’ yet! Yes we do manage to squeeze in 3500 incidents a year. Apart from 15 minutes tea break at 1500 hrs we will be out until 1630 hours when we return to Station to clean the Fire Engine ready for change of Watch at 1800 hrs. The period from 1700 to 1800 is designated personal hygiene period, when you clean you personal equipment.
So you can see, the past image of snooker playing firefighter waiting for fires has long go.
Bob France (Ret Firefighter).