“My Orford” - The Fire Service

With the disbandment of the National Fire Service after the war the responsibility for fire cover was vested in the County Council and in the Fire Services Act certain provisions had to be carried out. One of these provisions was that a fire appliance should be able to reach a fire in a certain time. The fire engines at Woodbridge and Saxmundham could not reach Orford within that time so the County Council set up a fire station at Orford.

Men between the ages of 18 and 50 were invited to attend a meeting where Division Officer Hurrell explained how the system of part time retained firemen worked.

Each volunteer would be paid a quarterly retaining fee in return for which he was required to attend the fire station for two hours each week for training and drills. He was also expected to respond to a fire call at any time of the day or night, for which he would be paid extra on an hourly basis. In order to do this the fire service relied on the good will of the employers to let their men leave work to attend fires, as indeed they still do today.

I joined the service in 1951 about a year after it was established in an ex coal storage shed in Rectory road. Others who joined at the same time were Jim Smy, Ted Hawes and Jack Denny. The area covered in addition to Orford being Sudbourne, Iken, Chillesford, Butley and Boyton.

When a caller dialled 999 they were put through to the Fire Control Room at Ipswich, the control room then phoned the telephone exchange at Orford Post Office and told the post master the address of the fire, he would then activate a siren which sounded for thirty seconds during the daytime and a bell in each fireman’s house at night time. The firemen then attended the station as quickly as possible, the first to arrive picked up the phone and was told the address of the fire by the operator and when a crew of six were assembled they would proceed to the fire. On arrival at the fire the 400 gallons of water carried on the tender would be used first and then a supply from open water would have to be found. Meanwhile the officer in charge assessed the situation and would then find the nearest telephone to inform control if further engines were needed or to put a stop message in.

I resigned from the fire service after twenty years service in 1971 and received the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. During that twenty years I saw many changes, the first tender was a Fordson flat back lorry with a 400 gallon water tank on the back, a trailer pump towed behind and no cover for the crew. Then a Canadian Dodge with a front mounted Barton pump. The bells for these machines were outside the near side cab window and the window had to be wound down to allow the sub-officer to manually ring the bell when proceeding to a fire. Other machines came along until we got one with a proper crew cab, electric bell and then two-tone horns.

In 1971 during the building of the "Cobra Mist" project on the Island we were called out to a fire in which a range of contractors huts were well alight. Several large industrial size propane gas bottles became involved, in spite of our efforts to cool them some of them exploded. Onlookers on the mainland likened the explosions to giant fireworks, but for us it was a bit uncomfortable. The station received a Chief Fire Officers Commendation for the work carried out that night.

In the 1950s there were several shouts to fires at the Hollesley Bay Borstal institution. Some boys actually liked being there and if their time was nearly up they would set fire to a stack in order to receive an extended sentence.

During the twenty years of my service we were promised a new fire station but it did not materialise until some years after I retired. The foundation stone of the new fire station was laid in 1987 by Mr Fred Gales chairman of the fire authority at that time.

Today the firemen are called out by bleeper, the address of the fire comes in the form of a computer print out, radio is used to keep in touch with the control room and the whole area has fire hydrants.

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