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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The Fire Brigade

The first mention of the possibility of forming a Works Fire brigade came, not immediately after the "Great Fire of 1922", but 11 years later in September 1933 in a Board of Management Minute. This appointed F.C.Ihlee and J.H. Booth as a committee to investigate fire precautions in general and what steps could be taken to form a volunteer Fire Brigade, but even their recommendations were not acted on particularly rapidly. Later, other recommendations included the installation of a fire alarm sytem and that the men should be trained in Air Raid Precautions.

The Brigade was finally formed in 1937, following an appeal for volunteers to which 20 men responded, as the "Westwood Works Fire Brigade" and was equipped with uniforms and a Trailer Pump in 1938. H.A. Coggan as Chief Officer, C. Farrington as 2nd Officer and twelve Firemen entered their first fire drill competitions in July 1938. The fire station was built in 1939.

The Brigade was augmented by several auxiliary firemen in September 1938, after the Munich Crisis, and again at the outbreak of war in September 1939, when the original strength was nearly trebled. Additional equipment was obtained including a second trailer pump. During the war, over 180 Fire Watchers were trained by the Brigade and stationed in all parts of the Works and Offices during air raid alerts.

We understand that one important duty during the war was to attend the proof testing of field guns manufactured at Westwood. These were tested in the field behind the Experimental Dept. and usually resulted in starting a grass fire. None of the outbreaks of fire dealt with by the Brigade during the war were caused by enemy action, although there were one or two incidents quite close to the Works. When the many separate Local Authority Fire Services around the country and the Auxiliary Fire Service were amalgamated into the one National Fire Service in 1941, it was decided that the Works Brigade would not become affiliated to it, as it was considered that it should not be placed in a position where it might be called away from the Works, so leaving the premises unprotected. At the end of the war the strength of the Brigade was reduced to two Officers and sixteen Men.

In January 1967, the Westwood Sports Field behind the Factory became the registered landing ground for helicopters ferrying emergency cases to and from the District Hospital. The Baker Perkins Fire Brigade assisted the County Fire Service with fire cover and ground crew duties when this facility was used.

The name was changed to "Baker Perkins Fire Brigade" in 1945 and, to reflect the changing role of the Brigade, the name was changed again to "Baker Perkins Fire and Emergency Service" in 1986. The Brigade remained in service until the closure of the Works in 1992. Some of the Firemen were transferred with APV Baker to Paston in 1991 and formed the basis of a new Emergency team to serve the new factory.

1938: The Westwood Works Fire Brigade shortly after receiving their new uniforms and Trailer Pump 1938: On Parade with the Management 1945-50?: Baker Perkins Fire Brigade 1945-50?: Baker Perkins Fire Brigade 1949: Family Outing to Hunstanton 1967: Baker Perkins Fire Brigade at Peterborough & District Competitions 1969: Baker Perkins Fire Brigade
1969: The Fire Brigade attend landing of Hospital Patient Helicopter on the Apprentice Sports Ground 1973: BP Fire Brigade thanked for prompt action on Factory Fire 1981: British Fire Service Association (Peterborough Branch) Fire Quiz Winners 1984: Fire & Rescue Exercise at Westwood Works (1) 1984: Fire & Rescue Exercise at Westwood Works (2) 1984: Fire & Rescue Exercise at Westwood Works (3) 1986: Results of Firemen's Charity Walk
1992: The last photograph of the BP Fire Brigade before disbanding

The Baker Perkins Fire Engines

The Brigade used a number of appliances over the 55 years of its existence. Their first Trailer Pump is shown in the 1938 photograph and a second Trailer Pump and Hose Cart were added during the war. In 1948, these were augmented by a second-hand Self-propelled Pump/Tender. This was in turn changed for "Betsy" in 1952 (see below).

"Betsy", registration number PN 4119, is an early Braidwood bodied Dennis Fire Engine. Built in 1928 for the Brighton & Hove Brigade, she was purchased for 65 in 1952 and after re-building and refurbishment, served with the Baker Perkins Fire Brigade until 1971. She had a 9120cc, 60 HP White & Poppe engine and was fitted with a Dennis No. 3 pump. Betsy still appears at Vintage Vehicle Rallies in the South and South West.

REG 999 was acquired in 1963 and served in the Baker Perkins Fire Brigade until 1992 when it was donated to the Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade. She is built on a Land Rover chassis and was stored at the Perkins Engines factory in Peterborough for over a year before being passed on to its new custodian who lives in Market Deeping.

This Commer Water Tender was acquired in 1971 to replace "Betsy".

A Bedford Water Tender was acquired on permanent loan from the Local Authority in 1984.

Dodge Water tender PVE 833N replaced the Bedford unit in 1988 when spares for the Bedford proved difficult and costly to obtain. PVE 833N was returned to the Local Authority on the closure of the site in 1992. The third appliance shown in this photograph is RUA 999W, another Landrover-based unit. This was in service at Paston until it was sold in around 2006/2007 when the Brigade was disbanded.

To see a more complete history of the Baker Perkins Fire Brigade written by Arthur Hitch, please click here.

Fire Safety Precautions

The most obvious outward manifestation of the Company Fire Brigade's professionalism in the prevention of fire was the stately walk around the site every Friday afternoon by Ben Reynolds or Cyril Cross, looking for accumulations of combustible material or impediments to an emergency exit. This tour of inspection, in full-dress Fire Brigade uniform, included each floor of the multi-storey office blocks. A grave expression and a policeman's pace appeared to be an essential part of this activity.

Another event, which always caused much excitement was the periodic Fire Drill. Before the erection of the 1975 Office Block, this entailed a mass evacuation of the 1933 building via the open iron fire escape on the west end of the building. This was always viewed with some trepidation, especially by the stiletto-heeled girls in the Typing Pool on the 5th floor. If some of the male staff felt any qualms about the descent, this was in part offset by the prospect afforded by the mini-skirts in fashion at the time.

There was also a metal fire escape at the east end of the two-storey 1918 office building. This was the emergency exit for the Accounts Department, and later the "in-house" Printing Department, who were on the 1st floor.

Fire Wardens

The Fire Drill provided an opportunity for the Fire Wardens to carry out their responsibilities in ensuring a speedy and orderly exit from the building. Each floor or office department had two or three Fire Wardens. This ensured that if any were away on holiday or for some other reason, there was always a Warden who could be contacted if necessary. Their names were displayed in their respective departments.

There was also a Chief Fire Warden whose job it was to ensure there were sufficient Fire Wardens for each floor of the offices. If someone transferred to another department for example then he would have to find a replacement.

In the event of any emergency Security would initiate and complete all the necessary fire procedures. Part of this procedure included calling in company firemen and notifying the County Brigade. They would also ensure that the works entrance or other areas affected were clear to enable easy access for fire and other emergency vehicles.

As part of this procedure they would notify the Chief Fire Warden of exactly where the fire or emergency was and if any action (i.e. evacuation) was to be taken. Whether action was necessary or not it was the duty of the CFW to notify one Fire Warden in each of the offices of the situation.

In an emergency Fire Wardens had total control of their floors. They would not accept excuses, from anyone, for staying in the department and they would therefore ensure that all members on their floor evacuated without delay.

Every Monday morning at 9.00am Security would test the fire alarm and sound the bells across the factory and offices for about 10 seconds. If it sounded for any longer than this Security could be sure of receiving complaints from members of staff - tempers being easily frayed first thing on Monday morning!

Fire Brigade Training

Mention of the old air-raid shelters which existed on the Westwood site is made in "BP at War - Air-raid Shelters", together with the fact that these were used for Fire Brigade training long after the War. Brian Prentice remembers:

"The shelters near to the Experimental Department were constructed such that about half was below ground level with some form of reinforced roofing which was then covered with grass. Entrance was through a wooden door mounted in a brick built wall which also created the end of the shelter.

The company Fire Brigade used the shelter to practice rescues using breathing apparatus. The inside of the shelter had been modified by fitting wooden partitions with doors which could be opened or closed to create a labyrinth of tunnels and passages through which firemen could search for our 12 stone (dummy) casualty.

The searchers would be wearing breathing apparatus with the face mask blanked by an opaque celluloid screen to simulate thick smoke. You couldn't see a hand in front of your face. The searchers would work in pairs, crawling on all fours, feeling their way round with the backs of their hands. This method prevented falling through holes in the floor or grabbing live electrical cables by accident. Fortunately during my time with the Brigade we were never called on to put our practice to the test.

There was also a surface mounted shelter on the right hand side of the main yard opposite the L70 office which was used as a store for Fire Brigade equipment."

1971: More pictures of "Betsy" 1976: Fire Mark Presented to the Brigade

Calling Out the Brigade

The decision to call out the Company Fire Brigade was not one that was taken lightly. Merely having its own Brigade on site did not mean that the alarm was sounded every time someone lit up a cigarette. Standing Orders dictated that the County Fire Brigade should be called out if the Company "bells had been put down", so it was vital to determine the potential extent of the problem before sounding the alarm.

An Incident Log from June 1958 describes a grass fire being seen by DCO Cross and Fireman Brown on the railway embankment, north of the company perimeter fence. Fireman Brown was sent to investigate and, after attempting to beat out the flames, without success for some five minutes, the Chief Officer was contacted and he decided that the alarm should be sounded. The self-propelled pump soon arrived on the scene and within seven minutes the fire was completely extinguished.

The Incident Report remarked that: "Whenever a turnout is made, not only is there a loss of production form the Firemen concerned, but also Firemen on piecework rates suffer a loss of earnings. Any unnecessary turnouts are therefore avoided, if possible."

The Westwood Junction Rail Crash of 1955

One of the most exciting "call-outs" for the Westwood Brigade was the rail crash that occurred just outside the Works close to Westwood Bridge. Details of this can be found in Outside Views.

Other Serious Events

In 1973, the Brigade experienced the largest fire on site since the Brigade was formed. A fire in an oil quench tank in the Heat Treatment Department quickly spread to the roof causing £26,000 worth of damage. The Works Fire Service, quickly supported by the Local Authority Brigade was able to restrict the damage to a relatively small section of the building. It was many hours after the local authority crews had left the scene that the Works Brigade completed the salvage work necessary to ensure minimal production losses.

In September 1986, potentially the most serious incident occurred with the failure of a Foundry Induction Furnace containing one and a half tons of molten metal. As the metal came into contact with water from the water cooled jacket, after the lining was breached, the fire crews were faced with a series of explosions and fires but were able to restrict the damage to the immediate area of the furnace which had been breached. It was some months before this particular furnace was ready for re-use but other furnaces could be used to avoid significant production losses.

Another Foundry Induction Furnace failure occurred in November 1990 - this one containing 7 tons of molten metal. A series of explosions was followed by a fireball effect within the furnace enclosure. This completely destroyed all the furnace control equipment and caused structural damage to the external wall of the building. There were a few moments delay before fire-fighting operations could commence whilst the electrical circuits, including high voltage equipment were made safe by a member of the Works Fire Service. The flames from the burring control panel reached a height of approximately 3 metres before being quickly extinguished by the joint efforts of the Works Fire Service, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service and Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade. The re-instatement value of this furnace was in the order of £250,000. Were it not for the rapid response of the Works and County Fire Services, all foundry production could have been lost if not the building itself.

Each piece of Fire Brigade equipment had to be carefully maintained on a regular basis and a written record kept. This is the Engine Log and Petrol Return for the Flyweight Pump from 1969 to 1990. The Brigade in the late '60s. Annual Fire Brigade Dinner.

Gordon Richardson's Photographs

Gordon Richardson’s son, David, has kindly allowed us to feature his late father’s collection of Baker Perkins Fire Brigade photographs:

Front row L to R - Nick Sansby; Mick Harris; Nigel Burgess; Brian Prentice; Wally Blades; Cyril Cross.
Back row - L to R - Ben Reynolds; Arthur Hitch; Barry Lyons; John Eden; Gordon Richardson; Pete Woods; William Osbourn; Trevor Edwards.

1973: Thank You Party after the Heat Treatment Fire.
Front row - L to R - Arthur Hitch; Gordon Richardson.
2nd row - L to R - ? ; Ben Reynolds; Brian Prentice; Wally Blades; Jack Sanderson; George Burgess; John Eden; Phil Short; Pete Woods; Nigel Burgess; ?; ?;
Back row - L to R - Bill Rout; Bill Brewer; Dave Smith.

1986: Sponsored walk by the BP Fire & Emergency Service in aid of Peterborough District Hospital and the BFSA Widows & Orphans' Benevolent Fund.
Front row - L to R - John Haynes; The Wellyphant; David Anthony.
2nd row - L to R - David James; Kevin O'Meara; Brian Crutchfield; Phil Smith.
Back row - L to R - Arthur Hitch; Steve Smith; Russ Evans; Dave Lown; Steve Luft; Chris Tibble.

The Wellyphant in Action.

Time for a Breather.
Front row - L to R - Russ Evans; Dave Lown.
Back row - Gordon Richardson; Phil Smith; Steve Smith; David Anthony; John Haynes.

"This kit is heavy!" Brian Crutchfield feels the heat.

The Wellyphant unmasked. It wasn't a real elephant after all!

1986: Ian Clarke receives his 10-year medal from John Reeves.

1986: A 20-year medal for John Haynes.

1993: Long Service Medal Presentation - Gordon Richardson - 25 years; Dave Lown - 10 years.
Back row - L to R - Ian Barker; John Haynes; Ian Clarke.

Do you have any other photographs of the Fire Brigade you would like to see on this page? If so, please click here to find out how to contribute material. If you can help to identify the individuals in the photographs, please see this page for instructions on how to contact us and we'll update the captions.

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