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Chichester Fire Brigade

by Pat Saunders

Fire engine emerging from station at Market Avenue, Caledonian Road, 1920 - 1930

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer at The Novium Museum

Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 insurance companies recruited their own fire brigades to protect property, but this was limited to buildings displaying the company badge. It wasn't until 1795 that the City Council in Chichester took the decision to make space for its own fire engine which was to be kept behind the Assembly rooms in North Street. By 1863 a new engine house was built adjoining the police station at Eastgate. The early appliances were hand-pumped and horse-drawn with the engine being filled with water by the Cattle Market Inn, a public house located in Eastgate Square.

In 1873 the City Council remodelled the existing force into a volunteer brigade and provided a new Merryweather Paxton manual fire pump and escape ladder to complement the existing equipment. By 1895 there were 27 men, led by Captain Alfred John Cutler.

In the later part of the 19th century the brigade faced a number of challenging fires - including at Henty's Westgate Brewery in 1865, Halsted's ironmongery shop in 1871 and Edney's department store in 1897. At this fire they needed the assistance of an engine from the barracks. This lead the Brigade Captain to make a request for a steam engine of their own. They eventually received a second hand appliance, bought for £230 in May 1906.  Years later, a petrol engine from Turner & Blakeway of Southampton was bought at a cost of £1,389 and the old steam engine was sold for £5.

The fire station then moved from East Street to the Cattlemarket site on the corner of Stirling Road in 1926. In 1941, during the Second World War, the Chichester Brigade became part of the National Fire Service to manage the threat of war-time bombing. In 1948, the Brigade was taken over by West Sussex County Council as the government wished to maintain common standards of equipment, training and operational techniques, that had developed during the war.

 In 1965 the brigade moved to its present headquarters in Northgate, which was home to the West Sussex Fire Brigade Headquarters and the brigade's Fire Control.

Since then the most serious fire tackled by the brigade was on 16 December 1993 when Sainsbury's superstore at Portfield caught fire, 25 pumps were needed to extinguish the blaze. A few months later, at the start of 1994, heavy rainfall caused the River Lavant to burst its banks and caused widespread flooding in Chichester. The fire brigade were called to tackle the floods but needed help in the form of the Home Office's green goddess pumps, built for the UK's civil defence. Despite appearing smaller the vehicles actually had greater pumping capacity than the standard fire engine.

In August 2016 the West Sussex Fire and Rescue service, in conjunction with the ambulance service, carried out a training exercise at Chichester Cathedral. The exercise  was designed to ensure both organisations would be able to work together if anyone was ever injured on the upper levels of the Cathedrals 120ft tower. A major mass decontamination exercise was carried out in 2005 at Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit which included well over 100 people from fire and rescue, police, ambulance and other angencies.

The West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service currently serve more than 800,000 residents. Aside from fire-fighting their duties also include; protecting people and property from fire, promoting fire safety and rescuing people from road traffic collisions. The fire service works with local communities to become safer, stronger and more resilient through a combination of prevention, protection and response activities. Firefighters continue to raise awareness of the dangers of fire and just last month were campaigning to focus attention on raising awareness of the dangers of smoking at home.