Personal Stories Sawbridgeworth Fire Brigade 1897 - to the early 1970's and beyond.
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Sawbridgeworth Fire Brigade Firemen/Fire Fighter Personal Stories
(There are also some short ones from site visitors contained in the Guestbook on the front page)
Andy Ballisat
Sawbridgeworth Fireman
 1972 - 2002
(18th January 2021)
The Dodge K500 Appliance VNK_121S ,I can say that this has been through North Weald main street when there was a flood there and took us well over an hour to reach a Warden based Old Persons complex from Harlow Central where we were on 'Stand By - there to the far end of North Weald, near to the M11 bridge. We tried several ways to reach our destination but were impeded by floods. Officer In Charge L/Fm Peter Roberts kept informing Essex Control of our predicament only to be told to still proceed. When we did arrive all was well at the complex. One thing though, the Dodge decided it did not want to budge as the brakes failed in the applied position due to the ingress of water. Two hours later a Mechanic had arrived and all seemed fine by then so off we went from North Weald toward home only to come across a car in the ditch that had gone off the road due to flood waters near the Bobbingworth, Ongar area turning, so we dealt with that too. Eventually we arrived back on Station and all seemed well with the Dodge. That evening there came a call and the crew gathered, jumped on but the Dodge was not going to take them anywhere!! The clutch had frozen/stuck on tight and no matter what, it would not release. I believe in the end it was low-loaded to workshops at Hatfield the next morning.
John Wright
Sawbridgeworth Fireman
 1956 - 1963
(January 2021)

Pre Fireman days as the son of a Sawbridgeworth Fireman who was in charge of the Station.
Sawbridgeworth changed a lot from the beginning of  WWII – the development of Sawbridgeworth Aerodrome was the start I think – you see I was very lucky, my father being in the brigade, from the age of about 10 I used to get rides on the NFS ATV (Austin Towing Vehicle) because I could be ‘hidden’ inside and the destination for drilling (Thursdays) in those days was frequently the Aerodrome. It was fascinating, there were still a lot of aircraft and bits of aircraft left around and of course back then, all of the buildings and huts were still there but just abandoned. All the concrete area Runways and Aprons etc. were still in place and of course all of the hydrants – mostly double ones adjacent to where aircraft were in use. I often wondered what has happened to all those facilities that were in place – sizeable water mains, hydrants and of course the sewerage systems. Are they still there – they must be I suppose? In the late 50’s early 60’s we were still using some of the buildings for ladder & rescue type practice etc. I think I may have mentioned previously that of course the accommodation huts of the aerodrome were all put to new use in the late forties’ by people who were desperate for housing from East London. I cannot remember how long they were there but certainly during the time I mention when I was ‘visiting’ in the ATV. There was  much talk in the early 50’s about developing the aerodrome into a major housing development but nothing progressed on that front and eventually it was all returned to farm land.
In the early part of the war the Sewerage Works off Sheering Mill Road was also expanded to accommodate the development of the aerodrome, a second rotating sparge filter system was added so in my day, working on the adjacent Vantorts farm there were two of those visible. In fact more than visible because the farm had a ‘contract’ with the Council to take away the mature material left from the treatment. We used to go there to load it onto farm trailers to spread on the horticultural land instead of dung from the animals. Some of the contents of the council material were quite revealing!

John Wright
Sawbridgeworth Fireman
 1956 - 1963
(January 2021)

Fire at The Square Sawbridgeworth
In or around 1961-62 we were at Stortford on a Tuesday Drill Night and Bishop's Stortford had the same day for their drills and Station Officer Whiting - East Herts - (Sawbridgeworth, Bishop’s Stortford, Much Hadham) had organised a joint familiarisation at Edwards Mill Bishop’s Stortford. On arrival the Stortford the crew went into the complex area and I was delegated to keep on the road outside and on standby in case of any callout for either town and I was to sound the Horns in case of any call out. So I reported to Hertford on the Radio Telephone (RT) of that situation. The rest of the crew went off with the Stortford crew to go round the Mill. I should think they had been gone into the buildings about 20 minutes when I got the call from Hertford “Barn fire at The Square Sawbridgeworth” so I immediately switched on the double horns. I suppose it took the two crews about 5 minutes to get back to the road for me to convey the message. Station Officer Whiting decided that as well as us Sawbridgeworth attending, Stortford also should attend, so off I went. I had such a good run as driver on the road that I didn’t see anything of the Stortford appliance behind us at all and we arrived at the Square in very good time and got to work on the Hydrant that was already in use of course (have a look at that detail on the web site - "More pre WWII history & NFS history captured from the Fire Stations' Archive" Fire Station Archive Tab). What had not been advised to us by Hertford was that under the circumstances they had requested assistance from Harlow (Town Centre Station) but we arrived and got to work about 5 minutes before Harlow and Stortford arrived. The Barn really was going and threatening the buildings that were owned by Riches as their Furniture Store but the action of those who were there from the Station and their basic kit had done the job of stopping the spread. I understood afterwards that Station Officer Whiting got into trouble over sending the Stortford appliance as well, being that Harlow had been called already – but Hertford had not mentioned that to me so I thought that very unfair! S/O Whiting was a really nice chap and was liked by all of us for his honest and practical approach and I think he also liked Sawbridgeworth as we were a very efficient brigade, he told us once, while on parade.

John Wright
Sawbridgeworth Fireman
 1956 - 1963
(January 2021)
Bishops Stortford Gasometer Fire
Around 1961-62 Sawbridgeworth were called to assist Bishop's Stortford with a call they had received to the Stortford Gasometer which was situated on the railway station side of Southmill Road. When we arrived the whole of the circumference of the Gasometer was on fire in the position where the part that rises (the inner section) joins the main base part. The inner section is floating on water and apparently somehow a substantial amount of oil had leaked out and accumulated on the surface of the water between the two Gasometer sections. It was the oil that was on fire but this was not known until after the fire had been extinguished with foam. The whole procedure was tricky in that a foam branch had to be taken up ladders to reach the area and then move around the circumference to extinguish the fire. Fortunately the amount of flames were not great so once foam was applied the fire was killed quickly. This was also a messy job as inevitably the foam output is difficult to control.
As already mentioned the concern on arrival was that, what was on fire was the gas itself which was quite alarming but thankfully this was not the case! The other concern of course was the fact that the fire was gradually heating the metal of the inner Gasometer and perhaps could have distorted the metal to create a gas leak. Although the metal was scorched and the paint taken off nothing further was heard about any real damage.