The Fire Brigade - Cliffe History

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The Fire Brigade
A disastrous fire in Church Street in 1901, in which four lives were lost brought home to the Parish in general and the Parish Council in particular, the need for fire-fighting service in the village and by 1904, the first fire engine – a horse-drawn manual-30ft. wheeled escape and other necessary equipment, were in the newly erected Fire Station and a stalwart band of voluntary firemen were training ready to be called upon if necessity arose. Mr. John Robertson, of Manor Farm, was the Brigade’s first Chief Officer, and fate decreed that the first fire this new equipment should attend was at the Chief Officer’s house. The drivers in those early days was not considered a fireman, but merely attended to the horses and was known as the coachman. The horses were often owned by the coachman and the story has often been told in the village of the coachman running down to the marsh in the middle of the night for his horse, and having a cow half saddled before he realised his mistake!
There were various methods used in those days for calling the firemen –call-boy, maroon, explosive rocket, pneumatic horn and bell, and several years later, an enamelled plate with the word ‘Fireman’was affixed to a fireman’s house to assist the caller or call-boy. In 1910 Mr J. Witherden succeeded Mr. J. Robertson as Chief Fire Officer and remained in that office for about 20 years.

During this time horses gave way to motor transport, but the efficiency of the firemen has consistently been such that on numerous occasions they have won cups and other awards.

The 1938 Fire Brigade Act made the Strood Rural District Council the Fire Authority but several years later Cliffe firemen were absorbed into the Kent Fire Brigade under the jurisdiction of the County Council.

By this time Mr. J. Witherden, son of a previous Chief Officer, was in command and firemen are now called by a large siren in the centre of the village and house bells electrically operated by remote control from Strood or Cliffe Fire Stations.

Cliffe has now a brand new ‘K’ type water pump, which incorporates all the features of modern design and technique.

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