Brownhills Fire Station (1959 until closure)
Situated in Chester Road North, opposite Holland Park, and the Parade road junction, Brownhills Fire Station was part of Staffordshire Fire Brigade with a designated number of South East 5. The double fronted single storied building, housed two operational appliances, with other vehicles stored inside the rear of the building. It had a large yard at the rear, used for training purposes, with a tall scaffolding tower, for drying hoses. On the top of this tower was an air raid siren, which was used to summon the retained volunteer firemen. A steel bunker housed a quantity of 2 gallon petrol cans to keep the engines and pumps topped up in instant readiness.
When I joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in 1959, there were two appliances on the run 24 hrs per day, one manned by a crew of full-time firemen, and the second machine, crewed by means of volunteer retained firemen. The first line of response vehicle, was a large 4 wheeled drive, Thornycroft Water Tender reg 877 MRF, similar to the photo.
Two crews of full-time, or regular firemen, working a shift pattern of 24 hrs on, and 24 hrs off, manned this beast of a machine. Driven by a Rolls Royce petrol engine, this off-road Water Tender, carried a supply of 500 gallons of water, as well as a trailer pump for use on larger fires.
Sub Officer Jack Wickson, was in charge of Red Watch, and also had overall station control. His crew consisted of, Elijah Trawford, Colin Cartwright, Don Bickley, and Ted Foulkes. Blue Watch was led by, Leading Fireman George Simpson, with Fred Webb, Ray Pickard, Joe Smith, and Harry Whitehouse.
The second line appliance was a Leyland, open bodied Major Pump, which was manned by a team of volunteer retained firemen.
Retained firemen were volunteers who had to live or work within a time limit of 5 minutes from the station. In 1959 they composed of, Leading Fireman Alf Nichols, Jack Willdig, Tommy Cole, Brian Bond, Vic Chadwick, Ron Poxon, Charlie Russell, Keith Gittings and John Hart.
When I joined the AFS it took the numbers to three, myself, Leonard Plumb, and Ray Taylor. After attending a few fires as an observer, I successfully applied to become a retained fireman.With a bell in the bedroom for night calls and a siren to call us out during the day, life became on constant red alert. Clothes placed for quick dressing, bike ready for an instant get-away and ears pricked for the siren call.
With the retirement of Chief Fire Officer Finney, his replacement, Chief Fire Officer David Blacktop, began to make improvements. Gradually all older machines were replaced with modern appliances. The Thornycroft was replaced with a Bedford TK Water Tender, fitted with a 40 ft Aluminium escape ladder.
The second response engine was replaced with a Dennis F12 Water Tender conversion.
Fitted with a Rolls Royce Turbo petrol engine, the F12 in my opinion was the finest Fire Engine ever built, and it had a nice warm crew cab, a far cry from the Leyland we were used to.
In 1962 when I reached the age of 21, I passed out as a brigade driver, in the Dennis. No sat-nav in those days, not even a two-way radio. We had to know our patch, and location of all telephone boxes, which were our only contact with base.
During the 1960’s, improvements were continually being made. Blue flashing lights, and two-tone horns, replaced the large brass bell, and yes we eventually were fitted with two-way radio links to HQ at Pirehill Stafford. Our call signs were YG 381 and YG 382 respectively for the two appliances.
Further appliance upgrades, saw the Dennis replaced with a second Bedford TK Water Tender.
Later in the 1960’s the first response Bedford was replaced with an ERF. This was the first Diesel powered Fire Engine in Staffordshire Fire Brigade.
Improvements to the AFS section in the 1960’s saw a despatch rider division being formed at Brownhills, run by Sub Officer Don Ryder.
Occasional AFS exercises were run in various parts of Staffordshire, and I drove the Green Goddess on most of them.
Throughout the 1960’s, there were many changes to the personnel, with all the regular full-time firemen, retiring or moving on after attaining promotion, and further firemen recruited as shift pattens were changed. Sub Officer Wickson retired, and was replaced by Station Officer Ellis, who after a few years moved to another Brigade and Station Officer Haddock took his place. Fred Webb retired, Elijah Trawford retired to work in his shoe shop in Brownhills, and Don Bickley moved to the Brigade transport division working for Divisional Officer Doody. Leading fireman Simpson moved to the day manning station at Lichfield, Ted Foulkes, Joe Smith, and Harry Whitehouse also retired, and Ray Pickard transferred to another station after promotion. Colin Cartwright retired on health grounds and started work at the HGV testing station at Featherstone.
There were also changes in the retained section, with Leading Fireman Nichols retiring, and John Hart and myself were promoted to Leading firemen. Jack Willdig, Brian Bond, and Charlie Russell also retired, and Tom Rivers, Arthur Bishop, Neville Probert, and my twin brothers Jimmy and Peter Hucker were recruited.
In 1969 the first line appliance moved to the newly built fire station in Aldridge, leaving just the retained crew at Brownhills, with one full timer on duty, to man the phones, and call out the part-time firemen when needed.
After a few months a new retained station was built at Chase Terrace, and the stations at Brownhills, and Rushall were closed down. The Brownhills station was demolished, and two rows of Maisonettes built on the site.
Shortly after the stations closure, both Brownhills and Rushall crews attended a presentation and farewell get together, held at the new station in Aldridge. The following photo appeared in the Express and Star Newspaper.