Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 21, 2016.
Webpage updated: March 21, 2016

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The good folks of Devonport did not worry about forming a fire brigade because they could rely on the Royal Dockyard despatching its Merryweather engine "Sutherland" to any fire in the Town, added to which the Royal Naval ships also had their own fire-fighting units, usually equipped with manual pumps.  But Plymouth had a force and even East Stonehouse had a volunteer fire brigade so in 1888 Devonport formed its own volunteer brigade.  The former Borough Engineer and Surveyor, the appropriately-named Mr J F Burns, was appointed as Chief Fire Officer and he had a Second Officer and twenty firemen.  At first they were equipped with two manual engines but in August 1900 these were replaced with a Merryweather Greenwich Gem steam engine, which was duly named "Annie" by Mrs Annie Hornbrook, the wife of the Mayor of Devonport.

The inhabitants of Saint Budeaux had to manage on their own until 1901, after their district was absorbed into Devonport, when they were supplied with some fire appliances by the Devonport brigade.  However, as the Saint Budeaux Ratepayers' Association complained at their first annual meeting on Thursday January 31st 1901: 'their hydrants were of two different threads and in case of fire the work of connecting them with the hoses would be largely dependent on the efficiency of the person using them.'  It is interesting that this problem of different threads was not understood until the Blitz of March 1941.

Devonport Corporation purchased a new motor fire engine and escape during 1914 at a cost of 1,150.  By then the Devonport Fire Brigade had their central station at the rear of the Town Hall in Ker Street, for which the telephone number was Devonport 276.  Mr Burns was now the Superintendent and lived at number 6 Argaum Villas, Stoke, telephone number Devonport 32.  His Deputy Superintendent was Mr E Dart, of 15 Haddington Road, Keyham.  His telephone number was Devonport 374.  There were also 'two firemen on day duty', Messrs O May and H Symons.  There were plenty of fire appliances stationed throughout the Borough.  There was an engine and hose-reel station at the rear of Albert Road, for which Mrs Baker, in Keppel Place, held the keys.  There was a hose-reel station at Devonport Workhouse in Melville Road, for which the caretaker of Ford School held the keys.  There was a Lock-up at Morice Town, for which the telephone number was Devonport 29.  Mr D Herd at 25 Barton Avenue held the keys of a Hose Reel Station at Alexandra Park, Keyham Barton.  Fire Alarms were provided by number 10 Johnston Terrace; by number 4 Stuart Road; by the National Provincial Bank in Fore Street; by Alfred Road and Cambridge Road; at the north end of Molesworth Road; by the Royal Albert Hospital in Marlborough Street; and at 15 Haddington Road, the Deputy Superintendent's private residence.  Saint Budeaux Railway Station and Saint Budeaux National School also had fire appliances stationed there.   

Following the amalgamation of the Three Towns in 1914, both the Devonport and Stonehouse volunteer fire brigades were disbanded in 1916 and control handed over to the Plymouth Borough Police & Fire Brigade, under Chief Constable J D Sowerby.   

In April 1917 Plymouth Borough Council approved the purchase of a 70/75bhp Merryweather Motor Fire Engine with a telescopic escape ladder at a cost of 1,452.  It could deliver 450 gallons of water per minute.  Whether there was a "buy one get one free" offer on at the time is unlikely but somehow the Council bought not one but two new Merryweathers in March 1918 and they were to be named "Plym" and "Tamar".  It seems likely that "Tamar" was stationed at Devonport Town Hall but it was lost in an accident in 1932.

The Plymouth Police remained in charge of the Fire Brigade until, in 1938 the Auxiliary Fire Service was formed in compliance with the Fire Brigades Act 1938, which was replaced as from Monday August 18th 1941 by the National Fire Service.  It took over the running of all the country's fire services.  The local area was commanded by Mr George Drury.  On Thursday April 1st 1948 the new City of Plymouth Fire Brigade was formed, with Mr Drury continuing as its Chief Fire Officer.