BNC Text K69

Suffolk Sound Archive: interview. Sample containing about 8140 words speech recorded in leisure context

2 speakers recorded by respondent number C623

PS5BD X f (Joyce, age unknown) unspecified
PS5BE X m (Melville, age unknown, retired fire officer) unspecified

1 recordings

  1. Tape 093001 recorded on 1987-08-20. LocationSuffolk: Ipswich () Activity: interview

Undivided text

Joyce (PS5BD) [1] This is oral history project tape number two of Mr Melville , of eleven, Close, Ipswich in Suffolk.
[2] My name is Joyce , the date is the twentieth of August, nineteen eighty seven.
[3] This is interview number six of the Fire Brigade.
[4] So you put another story on at Road?
Melville (PS5BE) [5] Yes, so that became the ... the fire prevention suite, erm ... and erm still is the fire prevention suite, erm and is well used now again, almost bursting, I should think er with increasing staff and, and work which seems to come each year.
Joyce (PS5BD) [6] When you talk about f fire prevention, what do you actually mean?
Melville (PS5BE) [7] [sigh] Yep, well, I mean the objective of fire prevention is to, is to try and make places safer and to alert people to erm to the risks and dangers of fire, before it happens,that that's, the objective is to er try and stop fires happening.
[8] Some of it is done by legislation which erm fire officers have to erm put to use er and, and work to erm and then there's a lot of good will advice and, and help that can be given, er and publicity and training and so on which comes under the big wing of fire prevention.
[9] I think they call it fire safety now, in my time it was fire prevention but now fire safety which is probably a better word for it.
[10] Er so, that task, much of it under legislation, is carried out by fire officers and much of it as I say by good will and erm er advice to householders and bodies and erm big concerns and so on.
Joyce (PS5BD) [11] Does that mean visiting their premises?
Melville (PS5BE) [12] Yep, yep erm these officers are all trained in, in fire prevention work erm at the Fire Service's technical college at Morton Marsh, and er they practise those skills they learn there over many years erm I'm looking back, I mean the time that I spent in training schools and er and in, in the job er I suppose when you total it all up it must be two or three years away from home really, er in courses you know, in my day we went away on fire prevention training classes six months, six months' course was the, so you went away to the Fire Service college which in those days was at Dorking, a lovely place in Dorking, and you did six months there solid, and then nowadays about thirteen weeks, the courses run about thirteen weeks, and you are constantly fire, fire officers from the ranks of erm probably a Sub Officer, leading fireman in some places, but Sub Officer onwards and particularly Station Officer up to the more senior ranks are away on courses regularly for, it's really updating people erm new legislation coming in, new techniques coming in, erm which have to be ... these people have to be updated so they are very well trained, erm more so than most local authority people I would think, fire, fire officers are, erm purely because the job is such a wide range of, of things to deal with.
Joyce (PS5BD) [13] That's changed over the years hasn't it?
Melville (PS5BE) [14] Oh it's changed no end erm ... particularly the fire safety and firing, fire prevention angle has changed erm the operational side has changed in as much the things are more complicated nowadays ... buildings are more complicated erm fire losses are greater erm ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [15] Fire losses?
Melville (PS5BE) [16] You know ... as the result of a fire the, the amount of money and goods that er are destroyed in the fire erm chemicals erm have come on the scene which bring with it their own particular dangers and risks from fire and from erm from the toxic effects of chemicals and the endanger to the environment.
Joyce (PS5BD) [17] Was this a new area for you when you came to Suffolk because we have the docks close by, chemicals coming in there and at Felixstowe,
Melville (PS5BE) [18] Yep.
Joyce (PS5BD) [19] this is an area probably that was new to you?
Melville (PS5BE) [20] It was erm it's the first time that I'd come across, I mean I'd been a little bit of experience on, on inland waterways in Windsor er which I'd lost when I went to Leicester and Lincoln [...] I came back here of course and now we had the North Sea and the docks and erm that was a new area and a, and a really good challenge erm I particularly got involved with, with things like erm the movement of chemicals which was beginning to increase and coming into Felixstowe and, and er and, and er Ipswich erm and when I think back ... Felixstowe Dock, looking back, ended where the big jumbo tank, the Calor Gas tank is, that, that was the sort of range of Felixstowe Dock in those days.
[21] Look at it now, it's gone right the way back now, with all that land being reclaimed and warehousing and you name it and docks, new docks, so ... in the past ten years, what a massive development that has become.
Joyce (PS5BD) [22] They wanted to come back even further didn't they?
Melville (PS5BE) [23] They did.
Joyce (PS5BD) [24] Recently.
Melville (PS5BE) [25] Yes, they did, but that's a massive development, and with it, of course, the new motorways, you know the, the A forty five, and the A twelve and, and all the new by-passes, the traffic now that er is on the roads there, of all kinds, erm is no one 's business, plus the warehousing arrangements at Felixstowe and, and Ipswich.
[26] So, it's a busy area now and erm from a fire point of view the fire risk is, is quite, quite high now, I would've thought, not necessarily dangerously high, but certainly it's increased, gradually increased.
[27] So, erm I saw the change.
Joyce (PS5BD) [28] Did you have any, did you have any large scares with chemicals?
Melville (PS5BE) [29] Yes.
Joyce (PS5BD) [30] In your early days.
Melville (PS5BE) [31] Well, yeah er we ... we had a fair amount of chemical er troubles erm mainly spillages, bad packaging, erm a few accidents erm, and very little information in those early days erm ... there was a lot of nasty chemicals going around which erm very little information followed it and people were being quite seriously injured, firemen included, policemen and others were getting involved with these things, and I got myself involved quite a lot with the various bodies that deal with chemicals, like the Chemical Industry Association, and people of that kind, trying to make things a bit safer, and taking up cases where spillages had occurred and, and accidents had happened er to try to get to the bottom of it and try to improve the situation and er I wasn't alone, most Chief Officers were working that way and certainly the London Fire Brigade did it, did no end of work with producing, what is now commonly known as the [...] coding and, and a system of, of erm er marking containers of chemicals so that people can understand how to deal with them, so that that was quite an interesting area which, even now I'm now retired I still have a little hand in that with er chemicals er in my few moments I have spare I, I get involved with that side, which I enjoy.
[32] Erm that is an area where, that and road traffic accidents which has grown considerably in, in the time that I've been in the service in more recent years, which has become more sophisticated, the equipment has become more sophisticated, the techniques have had to be developed to deal with them and firemen are becoming more expert in, in handling these er er situations with, with equipment er which is much more technical, and, and er ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [33] How has it changed?
Melville (PS5BE) [34] Well the, the risk has changed for a start I mean ... with the chemicals there are so many now erm chemicals and so much of it being transported by road, the risk of that and the dangers of accidents must be increased, although legislation has brought in a number of improvements, so firemen have to be very much up to date with that.
Joyce (PS5BD) [35] Do they have special gear for chemicals?
Melville (PS5BE) [36] Yes they have, very special gear in, in breathing apparatus and protective clothing, er which I didn't have in my early days, I mean breathing apparatus was just beginning to be used.
Joyce (PS5BD) [37] We're talking about Road are we?
Melville (PS5BE) [38] Yep, now nowadays erm they've got the best, I mean the equipment is excellent, er it came in my time erm my predecessor's time and it's been carried on now and new developments have come in, erm and with, of course techniques in, not only dealing with the chemicals in, in making safe afterwards which is twice as complicated I think, you know the decontamination side, the clearing up, the protecting of the environment from toxic chemicals er which we've all heard about in newspapers, and read reports and seen it on television, these, these accidents up and down the world.
Joyce (PS5BD) [39] How do you stop it getting into the environment, because if you hose it down it will wash down into the drains won't it?
Melville (PS5BE) [40] Very dan very difficult ... you've got to take steps of blocking off drains and stopping it getting in the waterways and you, you succeed sometimes, you don't success on other times and this is why er these accidents happen where all the fish and places die and people get contaminated, cattle get contaminated, all sorts of things.
[41] We're very conscious of that erm and where, where we offered advice in large places where for instance, where housing where chemicals are stored and all the precautions that are needed are provided and built in, for instance stopping off the drains so that water is contained, providing sloping areas in, in the bottom of warehouses where water doesn't come out, erm monitoring it ... telling people about it.
Joyce (PS5BD) [42] You almost need to be an architect.
Melville (PS5BE) [43] Well, fire officer's training does take in a lot of architectural work, you know the safety of buildings and the way in which they're put up, the materials that are used, the strength and the strength of materials and the fire resistance of materials, all that comes into their work.
[44] So, it's the range of ... of knowledge is quite wide, you know, from, from extricating a cat and how to do that er to, to a large modern hotel building, how to protect it from fire, so, so there's quite a lot to learn yep.
[45] This is why that the leaning process never ends, it's, it's always on, the new developments come in and people have to be taught, and firemen have to keep up to date with that.
Joyce (PS5BD) [46] For anybody who's interested it's certainly not a boring [...] .
Melville (PS5BE) [47] I never found it to be a boring job, erm if it is boring I think it's because they're only making it, if they make it that way and I think it's partly due, if they, if people do talk that way then I think it's partly due to the sort of duty systems that people work now, and erm the number of hours they work, and, and strangely for little things like the introduction of television, I think television, very nice in its way but it's killed life on fire stations and in certain areas, cos the whole business of conversation and learning and so on has gone, people would much sooner sit nowadays in front of the television and be entertained for an evening, instead of using all the other skills and, and erm things that are offered to them.
Joyce (PS5BD) [48] Do the firemen at Road still live on site when they're on duty?
Melville (PS5BE) [49] Yes, oh yes, nobody leaves a fire station once they come on duty no.
Joyce (PS5BD) [50] But, instead of playing cards and talking and making their own enjoyment probably?
Melville (PS5BE) [51] I might be a bit biased, I think they still do that but I think erm ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [52] The television has ...
Melville (PS5BE) [53] the television has made a difference.
[54] I think not only just at fire stations, I think in the whole of life, hasn't it?
Joyce (PS5BD) [55] Yes.
Melville (PS5BE) [56] Er, home life has changed, I think, because of that.
[57] I'm not saying it's bad, necessarily bad, but I think it has changed something and, and it's, I, I certainly saw it when it came onto fire stations in the fifties ... how life changed in the fire station.
[58] And er now it's accepted I suppose and young firemen joining now wouldn't, wouldn't know any different, and they'll probably be able to manage much better than I would ... on a fire station.
[59] Er I often ask what's life like, and the funny thing I've got a son in it now, I've got a son who's a station officer in, in Colchester, and my daughter just married a fireman from, from Road so, so we're still involved
Joyce (PS5BD) [60] Keep it in the family
Melville (PS5BE) [61] we're still involved, and they tell me that life on a fire station is still very pleasant so I'm sure it must be.
Joyce (PS5BD) [62] When you were talking about the equipment changing for road traffic accidents, in what way has that changed?
Melville (PS5BE) [63] Well, first of all er ... we started off with having a, an amount of fire equipment, an amount of rescue equipment carried on a particular vehicle.
Joyce (PS5BD) [64] And what did you have?
Melville (PS5BE) [65] Er things like er ... crowbars and bull croppers and er rescue ropes and lines and things of that kind, which are very very simple, stuff you would buy in a hardware shop and probably be able to manage with it.
[66] Now things became so complicated that one of the things we did and ... I think I was partly instrumental in it, was to make sure that we carried this on all fire engines, you know we used to have this one at each divisional headquarters, probably forty miles away.
[67] So, in the process of er ... change we, we provided the basic means for cutting, lifting and pulling er on every fire engine, a little amount of, of equipment, so that if you had a road traffic accident you didn't, the machine that was there, now that was a great step forward.
[68] Er we also had one very large, cumbersome machine which carried things like lighting and breathing apparatus, and heavy lifting gear and all the other bits and pieces of rescue equipment, which came along in slow time, now that has been improved upon no end, and they've got a very modern equipment now for that, erm er modern in the sense that new, new pieces have come on, cutting equipment with hydraulic jaws which er just slice through the top of a car roof, whereas we had to cut it with a hacksaw perhaps, or, or another metal saw, we, these can be done with just like cutting through cheese.
Joyce (PS5BD) [69] And time is the essence isn't it?
Melville (PS5BE) [70] Oh yes
Joyce (PS5BD) [71] In an accident
Melville (PS5BE) [72] oh yes, and, and er it's amazing those few seconds, how much they can relieve pain and suffering, if you can get people out quickly and, and take away the, the trouble from them.
Joyce (PS5BD) [73] Could it ...
Melville (PS5BE) [74] So that's all progress.
Joyce (PS5BD) [75] could a fireman administer first aid?
Melville (PS5BE) [76] Yes, they're all trained in first aid, erm erm and in the use er we also carry the analgesic gas, now the ones that er nitric oxide which is used in er pregnant mothers for childbirth, they carry some of that now, er which they administer to people in pain and that takes away the pain erm for the time being anyway, until such time as you can extricate them or, or ease the pain or take away the problem away from them that's causing them the pain.
[77] So that's a great step forward, isn't it, to, to relieve pain as quickly as that.
Joyce (PS5BD) [78] When did that come about?
Melville (PS5BE) [79] Oh nineteen sixties we, we introduced that with the blessing of the ambulance people as well, it wasn't done without careful consideration, because erm we didn't want people to, to just erm introduce it without knowing what we were doing and ever since we used it it's been a great blessing.
[80] So that's another step forward.
Joyce (PS5BD) [81] Is this equipment carried on a normal fire tender?
Melville (PS5BE) [82] Erm certainly on the rescue tenders, erm erm on, on each division would have that equipment, it's not carried on every fire engine as far as I know now, erm I, I don't see why it shouldn't but er again I think it's a matter of cost, and, and carrying it about as well and finding the space for it, but certainly it's at hand when it's needed.
[83] So, so that's been a great improvement I think, erm in recent years and, and in the erm early seventies we, we also went into the business of providing equipment that could be left at rescues, on site, you know it was always tying up a fire engine by taking it there and, and being tied up so we provided these things which we call demountable equipment, which we commonly call the pods and erm ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [84] Why did you call them pods?
Melville (PS5BE) [85] I don't know where the name came from it, it, it's, it's, it's simple and it seemed to work erm
Joyce (PS5BD) [86] Was it local?
Melville (PS5BE) [87] all it was was a box really, a box which you could get off a, a, a ... machine and dump it on the ground, erm the idea came from, from er I think dustcarts really, where, where you could sort of tip them up and, and they'd empty, and that, that was this [...] early thought on it er
Joyce (PS5BD) [88] Was it hydraulically taken up?
Melville (PS5BE) [89] All hydraulically lifted yep
Joyce (PS5BD) [90] With an arm
Melville (PS5BE) [91] yep, and we developed theo that business here in fact in Suffolk, we were the very first Fire Brigade to, to do it in the seventies, er our own workshops made them erm the units and are now still making them, and the ideas were original ideas on, on, on the equipment and we made about three or four in, in when I retired and I think they made several others now like canteen vans, and erm breathing apparatus, er [...] and so on.
[92] So there's a whole range now which requires just one prime mover to lift these pods and deposit them where they're needed, and it's been done in Germany elsewhere, in Fire Brigades elsewhere, certainly in Germany because I went and saw them there as well, and it's a very simple straightforward progressive sort of way of dealing with problems of the Fire Service.
Joyce (PS5BD) [93] Is it a normal fire tender that takes this pod along?
Melville (PS5BE) [94] No, it, it's, it, it, it's coloured like a fire, fire, fire engine red and all the other things, but it, it's a commercial vehicle a roll-on roll-off type of vehicle, which you can buy commercially and, and adapt for Fire Service use, and there's erm I should think there must be about half a dozen pods now, erm at High Wootton, in fact police services are using it, Thames Valley Police I remember coming up here to, to take the idea back, erm I saw yesterday at Hungerford, er the police there going with their pods to, to [...]
Joyce (PS5BD) [95] More like a cabin?
Melville (PS5BE) [96] It, it is it's, it's, you design it and you fit it up, and you can just
Joyce (PS5BD) [97] Pentiford
Melville (PS5BE) [98] Drop it down, in this Pentiford yep, ours is filled with all sorts of gear, for instance decontamination, you know erm after a, a chemical incidence you've got to clean yourself off without contaminating everybody else, and you can do this within a pod, it's been so designed that you can walk in one way dirty, and walk out another way clean, and ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [99] And how do you clean up in there then?
Melville (PS5BE) [100] Well there's water provided, there's showers provided, there's, there's clean air is provided, there's dirty areas and it was all well planned and segregated and, and partitioned off and curtained off and so on and, and it does work.
Joyce (PS5BD) [101] What happens to the water then [...] ?
Melville (PS5BE) [102] It's all collected into, into plastic er cans and you don't use gallons of it, you, you used enough to clean yourself off, and that's collected and then disposed of er under advice and help from the disposal, waste disposal people.
[103] The idea is that you don't dispose of it in the drains where it can contaminate.
[104] So that's been another step forward I think, in the whole progression, of the Fire Service.
Joyce (PS5BD) [105] What other changes have you seen over the, with the Fire Service at Road, since
Melville (PS5BE) [106] Road well
Joyce (PS5BD) [107] you came?
Melville (PS5BE) [108] I think communications has been the biggest change that I saw, erm ... er from a system which was called the DX system, which is really a very primitive way of calling people by means of generating electric current over some private wires, to fireman's houses and on to fire station.
Joyce (PS5BD) [109] How does it generate?
Melville (PS5BE) [110] It's generated with a handle and
Joyce (PS5BD) [111] Wound round?
Melville (PS5BE) [112] Yes, wind them round and this should, should generate a charge which rang bells and sounded bells and then er you lift up a telephone and plug in a jack and, and take a message in that way.
[113] Erm in fact telephones, I mean talking back to nineteen forties and fifties, very few people had telephones, and it wasn't uncommon in, in those days on fire engines, where, I know at Salisbury we did this, we took a bike and put it on the back of a fire engine, and if you were the youngest you were told, send the stock message back, or the informative message back, and find the telephone, and you pedalled and find the telephone, and, and you'd get told off when you came back, why you weren't quicker about taking it.
[114] Now that was the system.
Joyce (PS5BD) [115] It seems incredible, doesn't it, but like it was the only practical way to do it wasn't it?
Melville (PS5BE) [116] That's right, I mean you, you looked in, in, in, if you had a fire out in the sticks somewhere, you'd look to see where the telephone was, where if there were any, and then knock on somebody's door perhaps, at two o'clock in the morning and say can I use your telephone, and they weren't very happy sometimes I can tell you.
Joyce (PS5BD) [117] Weren't they?
Melville (PS5BE) [118] Oh, no and er
Joyce (PS5BD) [119] Hasn't anyone ever come unstuck? [laugh]
Melville (PS5BE) [120] Well,the you've heard, I've heard some people being nasty and, and they didn't say no, but it was always, not always it was occasionally done grudgingly, and, and erm in many cases of course it was done willingly, you know come in yes please do, and, and they didn't even want the penny that, that you offered them for the telephone call.
Joyce (PS5BD) [121] Heavy phone call.
Melville (PS5BE) [122] In the days, in those days yes, but nowadays what is it, it's er such a fantastic erm step forward really, it's all on radio, er where at the press of a button you get radio contact between headquarters and any fire engine, between any officer in the fire engine, you can call firemen by radio at their house, and at the fire station, erm I mean this is, is, is really progress and erm might be complicated, I'm sure it has its problems as well, but for a matter of speed er ... and computers as well coming in with it, the whole thing now is, is very sophisticated and erm very modern, and I think that's probably been the, probably the biggest step forward here.
[123] We started it off in, in nineteen seventy, early seventies with an all radio system, and we were the only Fire Brigade in the country that started it off, called the multi-tone radio system of communications.
[124] Er much to everybody's fear, really, because we, we, we were stepping into a new area, you can imagine from, from wires to something with no wires, and the risk of that failing, but, but it worked and er from thereon, of course most Fire Brigades have taken on the task and, and er are now on radio contact of this kind.
Joyce (PS5BD) [125] So Suffolk was the prime area?
Melville (PS5BE) [126] Oh, no doubt about it, in nineteen seventy two, seventy one seventy two we, we went out on a limb really with that, erm when all other Fire Brigades were using telephone systems, the Suffolk and Ipswich Fire Service went out and did that.
[127] So that I think has been the biggest, communication-wise, has been the biggest step forward ... in a more erm ... friendly and ... er happier sort of note we, we were one of the few brigades that started a band.
[128] Erm there was the London Fire Brigade which had a band, erm and the Yorkshire Fire Brigade which had a band, but there was no brass band as such in this part of the world.
Joyce (PS5BD) [129] When did it start?
Melville (PS5BE) [130] It started nineteen seventy one or seventy two, it must have been, when my predecessor and I were sat down, and we said what about a band, they all said, what band, well let's have a band, and ... and it started just like that, and we, we managed to get the whole of the brigade alerted to it, and we had a meeting at headquarters, to which about forty or fifty people turned up, of which two had probably blown a ... an instrument in the past, and there was enough enthusiasm to learn and we had a, a chap who was a musical teacher in town ... who was would happily teach our people you see and so we went out, we had a penny, with no help from the authority or anybody else and we got every type of brass instrument for a band on tick [laugh] and we said we'd pay for it, and er ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [131] As the Fire Brigade or individually?
Melville (PS5BE) [132] Er well, not as a Fire Brigade ... as, as, as individuals I suppose, we, we took the risk of, of paying for these instruments and ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [133] On the strength of a Fire Brigade band?
Melville (PS5BE) [134] Yeah.
Joyce (PS5BD) [135] Yeah.
Melville (PS5BE) [136] Yeah, and they did, they sent us a whole vanload of, of instruments and I can remember the, the evening we, we put all these instruments in the conference room there and the gang of enthusiasts arrived and, and they said and what would you like to play?
[137] [laugh] Some said they'd, they'd be interested in playing, they knew how to play certain things and others wanted to play others and that's how we started, and in a matter of a year the new headquarters at er Lowestoft was being opened, by the Dutchess of Kent, and we decided that the band was going to play at that one and you can imagine, and it was all ready and they were playing music, but I'm not sure what, what quality music it was, and blow me on the week before, the band leader, the conductor decided he couldn't play because he had a sprained wrist ... so we were left without a conductor even, but we managed to get another conductor and we played and I don't know what it sounded like, but the Dutchess of Kent was very kind, she said the music sounded lovely. [laugh]
Joyce (PS5BD) [138] God bless her.
Melville (PS5BE) [139] And things have gone on since then and the band still plays, er they have not the easiest task of finding people, because of change and so on, but er their families and friends and, and even some of the youngsters that learn at school that, a fireman's friends and relatives have joined the band and they play out in the parks and they, and they play in the spar pavilion and they, they provide concerts for people, and Christmas times they play in the town.
Joyce (PS5BD) [140] That's lovely.
Melville (PS5BE) [141] And I think it's great, and it's uniformed and it's played at the opening of, of the Fire Service technical college at Morton March, it was invited to play there with the other bands and erm before the Queen, and er so it's, it's gone on, from strength to strength and we are very proud of it, we really are.
Joyce (PS5BD) [142] When you said uniforms, it that fire uniforms?
Melville (PS5BE) [143] Fire uniform band, yep [...]
Joyce (PS5BD) [144] And [...] children in there?
[145] How do they get [...]
Melville (PS5BE) [146] Then we get it specially made.
Joyce (PS5BD) [147] [...] locally?
Melville (PS5BE) [148] Yeah, we're talking about children who ... you know thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, which are growing up a bit, but we get them altered and we get them made for them, we used to get them made and er still do I think.
Joyce (PS5BD) [149] Do you get them made locally?
Melville (PS5BE) [150] Yep, yeah ... all the mothers are very good as well, they, they, they alter them and get the uniform altered and fit so they look very smart they really do with er with the standard uniform with a little bit of embellishment on the shoulders and so on but erm ... otherwise it's the standard uniform.
Joyce (PS5BD) [151] When you say standard uniform, that is a variant from another type of uniform?
Melville (PS5BE) [152] It's the, it's the ... what we would call the walking-out uniform, you know the, the undressed uniform, not the fire fighting uniform, which is really just a jacket and trousers and shirt and tie and, and the girls have a skirt and er er a tie and blouse and that sort of thing, so and a cap of course.
Joyce (PS5BD) [153] Girls.
Melville (PS5BE) [154] Yes, we've got girls in the band as well, you know relatives of the families and, and girls that are work will do work in the Fire Brigade, in the control room and so on .
Joyce (PS5BD) [155] Have there ever been any fire ladies, you've got firemen?
Melville (PS5BE) [156] Erm, they haven't had them in Suffolk, we've had one or two try to join and one did reasonably well, but right at the end of, of the, of one of the tests, the strength tests, she failed, she couldn't quite manage it erm ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [157] What would she have to do?
Melville (PS5BE) [158] Er, well you have to carry a twelve stone man over a hundred yards, you see, in a certain time, and that is one of the strength tests, erm er these are these are tests that are drawn up to get people in in the initial stages, and then they go on from there.
[159] Erm and she was from the Pentiford area I think, erm ... oh quite a well educated girl, erm there was nothing to stop them from joining, I mean the London Fire Brigade there are, are fire fighters who are girls, erm and the er they do very well erm there are problems of course, with, with women on fire stations, but nevertheless there's no reason why they shouldn't be there, providing they can do the job and I'm sure those who read the papers and see the news know that in Russia and places like that, women do the, do the job very well.
[160] Erm ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [161] But you do need that physical strength?
Melville (PS5BE) [162] There's definitely that needed and, and by and large they seem to fall by slightly on that and in things like breathing apparatus, the wearing of that, and ...
Joyce (PS5BD) [163] Why is that?
Melville (PS5BE) [164] Erm I, I think again it's, it's probably the, the feeling of wearing it in, in confined spaces that might upset women more than it does erm men I don't know.
Joyce (PS5BD) [165] Is it claustrophobic in, in the breathing apparatus?
Melville (PS5BE) [166] It can be I know where it has affected men even to that extent to be claustrophobic yep.
[167] Er some won't wear it at all erm erm have had to leave the Fire Service because of that.
[168] Oh yes.
[169] Er it's not everybody's cup of tea that isn't, nor is indeed like climbing ladders isn't.
Joyce (PS5BD) [170] Climbing ladders isn't everybody's cup of tea you say?
Melville (PS5BE) [171] No it isn't erm and erm ... even those who in, in my experience who did get through there was just an occasional er time when they didn't pass that part of it, they, they, they, they couldn't quite manage that, the height side frightened them and er they failed, erm so there's quite a lot of demands on them and I'm sure ... that a lot of women could do it and a lot of women ... if they had the chance would do it or would, if they were willing to do it, but it's not something that grabs most women, I don't think it does, I think it's the physical side that puts them off, and that is what is the problem with the Fire Service, it is a physical job.
[172] Erm in the early stages, I mean you've got to go through all the ranks, you've got to go through that physical side, even if you want to get on, there's no direct promotion into the higher ranks so you've got to go through it, every Chief Officer, every senior officer that you, you come across in the fire service, has started as a fireman and will start as a fireman ... on like er the forces where you get direct entry into the forces, you don't get them in the Fire Service.
Joyce (PS5BD) [173] Mind you it's a good idea if you have all the practical experience, nobody can every say well you don't know, you haven't done it.
Melville (PS5BE) [174] That's right, I think that's, that's the secret of it yeah.
Joyce (PS5BD) [175] Yeah.
Melville (PS5BE) [176] But going through all the stages, all the ranks, experiencing all the things that every other fireman under your command will experience, and you've done it.
Joyce (PS5BD) [177] That's right.
[178] They do have lady clerical staff don't they?
Melville (PS5BE) [179] Mm ... yes most of the, most of the jobs erm anything to do with typewriting, and clerical work there's a predominance of me females, yeah.
[180] There are one or two clerks, er that have male, purely because it's, it's their job anyway, and er the chief clerk [...] headquarters is a male but the majority of them now are women yep, and they do well er, headquarters staff do it very well I think, that side of it.
[181] I think even Control Room where at one stage it was a, a male domain, it is not so now there's, there's, I would think now there's a predominance of women there, erm purely I think again that Control Room work suits them better, they, they, they concentrate better, I think, they, they lend themselves better to that type of work and they're more dextrous with their fingers on, on these buttons and, and typewriters and, and other things [...]
Joyce (PS5BD) [182] What does the Control Room involve?
Melville (PS5BE) [183] Well, the main Control Room is, it's the centre of all the communications set up on the operational side for the Fire Brigade.
[184] They take, they are the people that are in contact with every nine nine nine call that comes in.
Joyce (PS5BD) [185] Do they go direct now?
Melville (PS5BE) [186] They go direct wherever you are in Suffolk it goes into Ipswich, all the calls go into Ipswich.
Joyce (PS5BD) [187] Road?
Melville (PS5BE) [188] Yep, and ... erm the minute the nine nine nine calls come in, the staff at the Control Room there deal with them er erm they record the call, they, they talk to the people, they take the message, they erm call out the fire appliance, they inform the firemen where to go, they er show them where to go if, if they can't find their way, they direct them and then they process the whole problem until the job is ended.
[189] So that's the function of the Control Room.
Joyce (PS5BD) [190] How did they alert the firemen on at the station?
[191] You know, nine nine nine call comes in.
Melville (PS5BE) [192] Yep.
Joyce (PS5BD) [193] They verify that is coming from where the person says it's coming.
[194] They then alert the firemen.
[195] How do they alert the firemen?
Melville (PS5BE) [196] Well on the, on the whole-time manned stations, that's done by pressing a button and, and an alarm is sounded, it's er a [...] horn, type of horn that sounds off, er that's easy enough.
[197] On the twenty seven part-time stations where the people are not on the station, they're at home, they're at work or elsewhere, each one carries a little alerter with them, erm tiny little gadget in his pocket, and by means of this erm radio communication I was talking about earlier, by pressing the right button for the appropriate station, er er it triggers off these alerters and the men respond to that call, come to the fire station, where the telephone is live waiting for them and the message is passed on that way.
[198] In fact the latest development is that they don't even do that by picking up a telephone, the message is teleprinted on, onto a message pad there, and when they run in they pull off this pad, and there's the whole text for what they've got to do, where they've got to go, and so on.
[199] So it's all done now automatically.
[200] The girl in headquarters types it out, and it's transmitted there, and received and that's all they do.
[201] So there's no, even talking if necessary, once they get onto the fire engine, they pick up the receiver then and book-on mobile which tells the Control where they are going, and once at the situation then the conversation is done by, by radio telephone.
Joyce (PS5BD) [202] So in the olden days before they had the, the alarm, the pager alarm
Melville (PS5BE) [203] Mm.
Joyce (PS5BD) [204] carried on the pocket or whatever, how did you alert these part-time firemen or the, the erm they are part-time firemen aren't they?
Melville (PS5BE) [205] Yep, well each station in those days had one of the war-time sirens on, on, situated right on the top of the tower of these fire stations, enormous great sirens with a very piercing, loud sound, erm so that was the audible warning, to tell them that they were wanted in the fire station.
[206] Er it, it worked very well for ninety percent of the time, but there was occasions when wind direction was wrong, and the noise levels were high and so on.
[207] Er or aircraft went over when the siren was going, and the people couldn't hear it.
[208] [...] ninety five percent of the time it worked.
[209] At home, when they were at home they had bells in their home, and erm by pressing the appropriate button, er an electrical charge was sent across these wires, it was private wires to these homes and the bell rang, and as soon as the bell rang all hell broke loose in these, these homes.
[210] I mean I've known wives er having bicycles ready in the, in the corridors of the house, where all the man had to do was to get his trousers on, if he was asleep in bed, she would come and open the front door, put him on his bike and away he went.
[211] That was it.
[212] Of course it has become more sophisticated now, there's cars waiting and, but firemen are very very like that, we train firemen, they have their gear ready, erm I'm told by, by most of the firemen that they have a chair there with their trousers on them and his shirt and his shoes and, and his car is ready in, in the drive way or his bike is ready in the driveway and, and he's away and he's, he's on a fire station in a matter of a few, few minutes.
Joyce (PS5BD) [213] That's good isn't it?
Melville (PS5BE) [214] Oh yes, the, the service that the retain people give is unbelievable for what they get paid for, it's, it's pennies really for that service.
Joyce (PS5BD) [215] Because they only have minutes don't they to get [...] ?
Melville (PS5BE) [216] Well there's a great pride in getting there, you see and they don't want to, it's, it's the first six who get there who get the ride anyway, and there is a difference in the amount of money they earn, slightly, by getting the ride, in other words going to the fire there [...] there is a slight difference in, in the payment they receive.
[217] Not that it's much anyway, but it's, it's, there is a difference, and there is this pride of getting there, being one of the first six to get there, and there is quite a lot of competition, I can assure you.
[218] [laugh] And er they have a go, er even day and night, and I don't know anywhere in the country that you can get that sort of service twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year from people who get paid that sort of money, it's, I think it's, it's a marvellous er set-up it really is.
Joyce (PS5BD) [219] Would it be out of order to ask what they do get paid, or what they did get paid?
Melville (PS5BE) [220] Oh I'm, I'm not sure, it's, it's a few hundred pounds a year and I, I, I'm really guessing it's a few hundred pounds a year for what they call a retaining fee, for being firemen, and then it's a few pounds every time they attend, and a lesser amount every time ... for an, a greater amount every time they go out on the fire engine, but it's nothing er ... nothing exceptionally high, it's, it's very reasonable when you think they've got other jobs to do
Joyce (PS5BD) [221] That's right.
Melville (PS5BE) [222] er and other commitments that twelve men in a in a village such as erm Pentiford or Pentiford will give twenty four hours cover for fires, all through the year and there are very rarely incidents where you cannot turn out a crew.
[223] Very, very rare indeed.
[224] Now that's marvellous I think.
Joyce (PS5BD) [225] Yes, so you have twelve retained firemen, and six, at least, have to go, there are six who go on a tender?
Melville (PS5BE) [226] Six is the maximum you can push onto, or fit on a, a fire appliance safely.
Joyce (PS5BD) [227] Do you have a rota system where if maybe six have got onto an appliance and there's another fire comes up in a few hours that they cannot turn ut again, or is it just a matter of whoever gets there first again?
Melville (PS5BE) [228] I think some stations might do that, but they only do it if, if it's, if it's not going to be detrimental to the turn out, in other words they, they have a system, erm for instance they have a duty crew over the weekend, so that at least some can take their families to the seaside if they wanted to, so six will remain around the house er er but they do have some system, but I think the majority of fire stations, there are twenty seven in Suffolk like that, who work on the system of getting there as quickly as they can, and that is the best competition to get there, to get the ride.
[229] And, they want to go anyway, that that's another point.
Joyce (PS5BD) [230] Cos they're very conscientious aren't they?
Melville (PS5BE) [231] Oh yes, very keen, very keen.
Joyce (PS5BD) [232] Did you have any large fires in your time at Road?
Melville (PS5BE) [233] Mm, yes we had a ... a reasonable number, erm ... nothing ... that dramatic, but you know enough flame and fire erm ... to deal with.
[234] There was one certainly in the docks in my time where, er quite a nasty fire in the docks, one of the warehouse buildings there was, was going very well erm a ten, ten or so pump was on, on that job.
[235] Erm plenty of water everywhere and er firemen everywhere.
Joyce (PS5BD) [236] Can you pump out of the dock in a situation like that?
Melville (PS5BE) [237] Yes you can.
[238] Yes, the fire pumps can, can raise water up to thirty feet from the ground, erm ... and they, they can pick up water of course from fire hydrants, which is situated all, all, in most streets anyway.
[239] So there's no shortage of water in that area, er and even in some dock areas and [...] dock for instance they've got special fire mains which are pressurised, which give a lot of water at a high pressure, so you can pump from there.
[240] So there's no water shortage as such, sometimes you get the water problems when you get out in the sticks somewhere you'll, you, you do have problems, but all fire officers are trained to search their areas and have special cards er which they've done their research on, where the water supplies are, like ponds and lakes and so on, and that information is readily available when they turn out these areas so that a fire crew going out there, your nearest water supply is a pond at [...] and certain area and they've got that you see.
Joyce (PS5BD) [241] They've got that.
Melville (PS5BE) [242] So all that's been researched and, and so on, and so there's no time wasting as far as I [...] .
[243] Occasionally you'd get er hiccups you know where you can't get down there because the ground is boggy and it takes a little longer, and that sort of thing but ... the availability of water is, is, is pre-planned and given to you.
Joyce (PS5BD) [244] And plus they take some of their own along anyway, don't they?
Melville (PS5BE) [245] They always carry four hundred gallons of water as well yes.
Joyce (PS5BD) [246] Do they still carry the same today or has, has that amount gone up?
Melville (PS5BE) [247] No it's four hundred gallons, it's, it's, it's, they don't like to take any more than that because of the, the weight of water, it's quite heavy er although they have one special equipment here again one of these roll-on roll-off ones, which is a water tank equipment, and er it carries about a thousand gallons or two thousand gallons of water, er in a tank, water tank and that if you are very short of water will be sent on as well to boost up water supplies in a particular area, so erm that was another one of these pods that we, we designed and, and put on the run.
Joyce (PS5BD) [248] And you say that other counties copied these ideas from you?
Melville (PS5BE) [249] Oh yes it, it spread, really has spread now quite a lot.
[250] They're very pleased at that because I mean they obviously found it to be useful, erm we proved it to be useful and it's nice to see them all taking on this responsibility now, now and doing it, because that's all progress.
Joyce (PS5BD) [251] It sounds like the Fire Service has come a long way from the early years.
Melville (PS5BE) [252] Oh yes oh yes ... in my thirty odd years erm looking back now it must have been primitive in those days really [laugh] .
[253] The uniforms were, the equipment was and yet it worked, it really worked, how efficient I suppose when you judge it from modern standards, I don't know.
Joyce (PS5BD) [254] When you said the uniforms were, in what way?
Melville (PS5BE) [255] Well I mean I, I, when I joined in forty nine the, the fire uniform wasn't all that much different except they had black helmets instead of yellow, and, and they had rubber boots and they didn't have the leggings we have, and so on now, but the walking-out uniform was the old army battledress died blue, that's all it was.
[256] So we were all issued with army battledress.
[257] [laugh] I mean, nowadays you've got nice jackets and, and, and so on, and the hats were, were stiff sort of hats with, caps rather with wire brims on them, you know and, and they, they were really flat on the top and there was no style with them or anything, it was, it was the styles of the, of the forties I suppose and, and nowadays it's so much smarter and nicer and more comfortable as well .
[258] The battledress was very good, I mean the army seemed to wore it all that time so er we had it for several years and we had to press that every day, thick material, very heavy. [laugh]
Joyce (PS5BD) [259] Press it every day?
Melville (PS5BE) [260] Well, to keep it tidy, you see the, the creases used to come out so quickly, and we had to be, well on parade you were, you were looked at and you had to be very tidy and proper and er if you didn't do it you were told to do it and that was that. [laugh]
Joyce (PS5BD) [261] Are they so strict on appearance today?
Melville (PS5BE) [262] I think there's a pride that, that the majority of firemen are, are fairly clean and smart erm there are the odd ones that have to be told but it's not the same sort of discipline now as there was, and I'm not sure whether it's right or wrong, all I see I, I enjoy the discipline when I had it, I sometimes wish it was brought back but er it's not the time now it seems for that type of discipline, so I think they manage well but er I would like to see a little more but perhaps I'm a bit old fashioned. [laugh]
Joyce (PS5BD) [263] All in all you seen like you enjoyed your time in the Fire Service?
Melville (PS5BE) [264] Oh yes, oh yes, if I had it again I'd do it exactly again.
Joyce (PS5BD) [265] Would you?
Melville (PS5BE) [266] No trouble at all, yeah, I really enjoyed thirty one good years mm.