Pym was successful in the ballot and presented his Bill on April 12th, 1899, supported by eight other M.P.s. The object, he said, was to ensure that fire brigades throughout country districts should be as efficient as the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. The Bill was brought in solely in the interest of public safety; what was wanted to make the country brigades efficient was money and one general system throughout the land. Existing Acts were permissive and were therefore only partly operative. Where they were employed it was found that the addition to the rates was trifling in comparison with the protection secured.
Mr. Birrell (Fife W.) said it was a curious thing that so essential a duty as fire fighting should so long have been left in such a higgledy-piggledy state. Every year witnessed the destruction of priceless treasures which no architect or artist could restore, and they saw the country made to that extent less fit to live in, largely in consequence of our apathy in regard to what was as much a matter of public duty as the police.
There was a noble body of men, upwards of eight thousand strong, associated with the National Fire Brigades Union who adequately discharged the important duty they had undertaken as far as their limited means and incomplete apparatus would allow; but there were also, up and down the country, associations calling themselves fire brigades which really lived by mendicancy almost as the religious fraternities used to do in mediaeval times. He thought that if the Bill passed it would work admirably and confer a great boon on the country at large.
Mr. Malcom (Stowmarket, Suffolk), in a maiden speech, said he considered the Bill a very necessary and valuable one. At the outset he could not do better than refer to a letter received from Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, whose name was connected with all that was noble and best in the fire service. Sir Eyre Massey Shaw expressed the opinion that the consolidation of fire brigades under the National Fire Brigades Union had been of great public benefit. He had retired from the position of president of that union, but he continued to take great interest in fire brigade work, and was convinced that the statutory powers proposed to be conferred by the Bill, especially the appointment of inspectors, would be of great public utility. He earnestly hoped the House would pass the second reading of the Bill. There was a strong testimony in favour of the Bill. Country fire brigades were organised and started in the most haphazard fashion. Drills were irregular, appliances often dangerously defective, and instruction frequently altogether wanting; and it was to bodies formed and equipped in this way that the fate of villages, factories and historical buildings was complacently consigned by too-sanguine local authorities. It was partly to protect the public from waste of money of this kind that the Bill was introduced. It was also hoped that by its means some public recognition of the services of fire brigades would be obtained. In England alone at present firemen had no acknowledged status. The National Union had done a great deal in the promotion of camps and conferences, but he did not think that that was all that was wanted. Annual inspection was absolutely necessary to keep a fire brigade up to the mark. That was the reason why inspectors were insisted on in the Bill. The local authorities were not the people to make the inspection, because they had no expert knowledge. Public appreciation had in this country been too long withheld from a devoted body of men. On the continent of Europe and in the United States of America the case was widely different, the fire service being placed on an equality with the army and navy. If the Government would accept the Bill they would not only protect the public purse, but would do something which would lead to bettering the lot of, and lessening the risks to, the fire- men themselves and which would tend to raise in the public estimation a Service composed of men whose lives were devoted to humanity and of whose efforts this country ought justly to be proud.
There was a good deal more in this vein, but Mr. Chaplin, the president of the Local Government Board, said “the question was whether rural brigades were so inefficient and such a grievance had been made out as to call for legislation on the subject. He could only say that the Local Government Board had no information whatever to that effect.” He finally called on the honourable member for Bedford to withdraw the measure and move for a Select Committee to enquire into the whole subject.” By that means a great deal of information which was now wanting would be obtained, and on that information a Bill more calculated to carry out the objects in view might be framed and introduced next year.”
Mr. Pym said he was quite prepared to act on the suggestion of the president of the Local Government Board to withdraw the Bill. He gratefully accepted the proposal of the right hon. gentleman for a Select Committee, for he believed that when it reported they would be in a position to deal with the matter thoroughly and effectively.
The order was discharged and the Bill withdrawn.
The Select Committee was set up “to inquire and report as to the existing arrangements for the provision of Fire Brigades (including both staff and appliances) in England and Wales, excepting the Metropolitan Fire Brigade; the adequacy of such arrangements for the due protection of life and property from destruction or injury from fire; and the Amendments, if any, which are necessary or desirable in the law on the subject.” It was composed of fifteen members, including Major Pym, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Jesse Collings, M.P. It sat from June 6th to July 5th and examined:
The Chief Officers of London, Manchester, Exeter, Newport (Mon.), Llanelly, Alton, Rickmansworth and Teddington Fire Brigades, the Chief Constables of Bristol, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Dorset, West Riding, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire and Lancaster, the Town Clerks of Cardiff, Norwich, Sunderland, and Pembroke and the Clerk to the Bromyard U.D.C., the Secretary of the Non-County Boroughs’ Association, the Chairman of the Fire Offices’ Committee, the Honorary Counsel and the Honorary Secretary of the National Fire Brigades’ Union, Mr. Sachs, Chairman of the British Fire Prevention Committee, an assistant secretary of the Local Government Board, a principal clerk of the Home Office, Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, J. P. Williams, M.P. for Birmingham South and Finan- cial Secretary to the War Office.
The Committee was concerned with:
The failure of local authorities to use their existing powers and the desirability of further legislation embodying compulsion.
The desirability or otherwise of inspection by a central body. Insurance companies and their alleged liabilities to provide fire protection.
The police brigades.
The bogus brigades, how they were to be dealt with and whether the Uniforms Act, 1894, should be amended to include a standard fire brigade uniform.
The Committee received a good many contradictory answers, but the general trend of the evidence shewed a lack of elementary precautions in rural and even in some urban areas.
Mr. C. H. Brown, barrister, a member of Guildford Borough Council and honorary counsel to the National Fire Brigades Union, quoted the Acts concerned with fire protection and stated that they were nearly all permissive. They conferred powers but imposed no duties. He said:
“A large number of local authorities altogether neglect to exercise their powers. There were towns with a rateable value of £80,000 that had no fire protection whatsoever. One so-called way of exercising the powers is to provide appliances and entrust them to a volunteer brigade not paid by the Council nor under its control.
“It is not engaged by the Council nor can it be removed by the Council; in fact an irresponsible body of men. The entrusting of appliances, or the mere giving of a yearly contribution to such a body is in excess of the powers of local authorities and really is illegal. A large number of brigades are so-called volunteer brigades but their sources of income are what they may get by mendicancy and their charges for fire extinction in addition to inadequate contributions by the local authority.
“Public authorities have had powers for forty-one years and have grievously neglected them to the public detriment. In my view any legislation would fail of its object if ‘it did not include a power of compulsion by a government department over local authorities.
This last opinion elicited from the chairman, Mr. Jesse Collings, an enquiry as to how compulsion was to be enforced. “Do you mean the ultimate imprisonment of the Mayor and Corporation?” he asked. Mr. Brown explained that there was already legislation in connection with other departments of local government which was enforceable by the central government, and expressed the opinion that if compulsory powers were available “not in one case in a hundred would they have to be resorted to”.
Mr. Thomas Noel Kershaw, assistant secretary of the Local Government Board, agreed that a consolidating and amending Act of all existing legislation would certainly be an advantage, but when it came to coercion and inspection of local authorities, in what he himself obviously con- sidered the minor matter of fire protection, he had many doubts. He agreed that Section 299 of the Public Health Act, 1875, gave the Government powers to enforce the proper provision of sewerage and water-supply, but said: “If the principle is to be extended to fire brigades I scarcely see where the interference of the central authority in matters of local government is to end.”
Major Pym asked: “Is it not rather a matter of opinion whether fire protection is a minor matter?” “Certainly,” replied the witness, “that is merely my opinion but I fancy it is somewhat generally held.” He added that inspection would in many cases cause irritation. “Local authorities do not like the interference of a central authority; they resent it.” County Council interference would be “resented enormously”.
Mr. C. E. Troup, C.B., principal clerk, Home Office, said: “We have no statutory powers whatever in the control or discipline of fire brigades. There is no official knowledge of the efficiency of fire brigades and no means of getting it officially. If the inhabitants of a place do not insist on having an efficient fire brigade it is themselves who suffer.”
Mr. Horace Sampson Lyne, a solicitor, the volunteer Chief Officer of the partly professional Newport (Mon.) Fire Brigade and chairman of the Welsh district of the National Fire Brigades Union, described South Wales as ; “with a few exceptions very deficient in every way in fire fighting”. There was a large number of brigades that would never pass any examination. The local authorities shewed the “greatest apathy all through”. Sometimes there was a disastrous fire, after which they formed a brigade, but after formation it got no support except from “the landed gentry or owners of big works”. He considered that every urban district should be compelled to have a proper brigade to which surrounding parishes should contribute and thereby be entitled to protection. If this was not practicalble he thought County Councils should establish brigades.
Commander Wells had not yet had three years’ fire brigade experience; nevertheless, such was the prestige of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, he was called to give evidence. He said he had made a point of visiting provincial brigades, he had visited them as a friend and been very well entertained, he was therefore “awfully sorry” to be stating in public his opinion of these people, but the following points had struck him during his visits. (1) Irregularity of system; (2) No training to qualify for fireman; (3) Uneven scales of pay; (4) Haphazard selection of appliances; (5) Brigade raised Or augmented in times of panic; (6) Not sufficient interest by local authorities to make the best use of their officers and men, or indeed to establish a brigade at all; (7) The lack of the proper enforcement of the three authoritative Acts which now exist, and which in themselves are fairly complete, if the local authorities only exercise their powers; (8) Absence of unbiased independent professional advice, without which local authorities are in many cases entirely dependent upon the makers of fire apparatus and their agents.
He expressed the opinion that it was illegal for local authorities to contribute to volunteer brigades not under their control, and said that such brigades often left much to be desired in discipline and efficiency and performed careless and ignorant work though done with the best intentions.
If the legislative powers which already existed were enforced by local authorities it would in a measure overcome the difficulty, but further legis- lation was necessary.
Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, K.C.B., said he had been Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade for thirty years and had retired eight years ago. He had acquired a general knowledge of the condition of fire brigades in provincial districts.
In rural districts some brigades were quite good; others exceedingly bad, and the local authority had not taken the trouble to use its powers. There had been a great deal of apathy on the part of many local authorities. The number of fires was excessive and the waste of the public wealth had come to a point where it was desirable to prevent it going farther. He thought it was the duty of the State to look after fire protection.
Captain H. S. Folker, estate agent at Guildford and honorary secretary of the National Fire Brigades Union, gave evidence which was mostly supplementary to that of his fellow-townsman and colleague in the N.F.B.U., Mr. Brown. He had sent a questionnaire to every local authority in the country and though many had not answered, replies received indicated that there were at least 266 local authorities without any fire brigade at all.
A great many authorities who claimed they were protected by a volunteer brigade gave this brigade no financial support at all, and 60 per cent. of the volunteer brigades had to solicit subscriptions. He had visited many of these brigades and found that as a rule they were not efficient. In many towns they had engines that were a hundred years old. Local authorities were very confused as to their duties. He felt that the urban district was the proper centre for a fire brigade and that the large town should protect its surrounding villages. If they could not do so the County Council should and the expenses should come from the county rate.
This contention produced the objection from a member of the Committee that the man in a parish five miles from the urban centre would have less chance of having his property protected than the man who was only a mile away.
Charles Edmund Baker, J.P., was the Chairman of the Beckenham U.D.C. and Secretary of the Non-County Boroughs Association. He said there was a serious want of wider powers throughout the country and told how Bromley had been surcharged by the district auditor for contributing to the local volunteer brigade and another council in Kent had been surcharged by the same official for providing fire boots. Both had been told that if they took the brigade over and ran it as a council brigade they could pay for what they liked. Bromley had had to do this, but it would have been far cheaper if they had merely contributed, say, £100 a year to keep the volunteer brigade in funds.
He was most insistent that the local authority should have powers to claim against an insurance company when a fire occurred, and if that was not possible they should claim against the owner of the property. People should be charged for the attendance of the borough fire brigade even when they were ratepayers of the borough. He raised strong objection to the Bill because of the interference in the affairs of urban authorities by County Councils, needless expense in the appointment of inspectors, un- necessary work and annoyance caused to urban authorities. When asked if there was objection to the intervention of the Local Government Board he answered: “Yes, as they might transfer their powers to County Councils!”
It seemed obvious that when Mr. Baker and his Association demanded wider powers they meant wider powers to continue to neglect fire protection without interference from above.
The other U.D.C. witness was of a different calibre. Mr. Edward Lashford Cave, solicitor, had been Clerk to the Bromyard U.D.C. and was now a member of that Council and Clerk to the Bromyard R.D.C. He said that he did not share the feeling of jealousy about County Council control.
The only appliances in Bromyard were an old manual given by a landowner a hundred years ago, but still in good working order, and “a very fair manual engine” purchased by subscription about 1872. The Council had taken over the voluntary brigade in 1879 when it became involved in debt. When the machine was wanted it was found to be all out of order. That had been the case in Bromyard several times and recently two persons had perished in fires.
The U.D.C. and the R.D.C. should combine to form an efficient brigade and a steamer should be provided. There would be no objection to County control. The four County Chief Constables admitted that they had little knowledge of fire brigade work, but that they had a very good idea of most things that went on in their county.
In the West Riding, fire arrangements were distinctly the reverse of adequate; the county was certainly not adequately protected and the loss of property was very great. The lack of provision seemed to be due to lack of thought. People do not anticipate a fire, and when it happens they have not the appliances to deal with it. It was fortunate that factories generally let their steam engines go to fires outside their premises. Further legislation was very desirable.
In Dorset a great many fires simply burnt out unless one of the big country-house brigades attended, such as Lord Wolverton’s private brigade which kept horses always standing ready. The Chief Constable thought the County Council would be the best authority.
In Gloucestershire there was no provision in country districts whatever. It was an important and serious matter. The Chief Constable suggested the Government should control fire brigades.
In Staffordshire there were absolutely no proper precautions of any sort or kind. Recently Wrothesley Hall had completely burnt down and Wolverhampton had refused to send their engine. The Chief Constable felt strongly that the local authority should be made responsible.
In Lancashire there was no proper brigade between Preston and Carlisle except Lancaster, and that was a distance of ninety miles. Farms and some- times whole villages had burned out for lack of protection. Garstang’s engine was over a hundred years old and in Morecambe the inhabitants were petitioning the Council to provide protection. The only objection to proper organised brigades was the cost.
On the question of support given by large towns to the surrounding rural areas the Chief Constable of Liverpool said that the charges for out-of-city work were so prohibitive that local authorities who had asked for protection had declined to accept it.
The Chief Constable of Bristol said they gave every notice that they did not go outside the city at all. Some suburbs were completely unprotected. They seemed very hopeful but he did not know if they were content.
The Chief Constable of Nottingham said the surrounding villages relied on Providence. Fires were continually occurring, when they were in great distress for the want of proper appliances.
In Manchester the out-of-city charges were, in the view of the Chief Officer, too reasonable. Prestwick paid only £30 a year “and you could knock a pair of horses costing £75 a piece in getting there” . The Chief Officer of Alton said he had taken his horsed steamer to a fire thirteen miles away.
When they discussed inspection the Committee found nineteen of their witnesses in favour, though some with reservations, and only three opposing.
Inspection is necessary, said Shaw. “I would not force it on large towns, but most of them would be very proud to be inspected.”
“It would be of the utmost value,” said his successor, Commander Wells. “Any ship or regiment takes inspection as a compliment except where likely to reveal inefficiency or slovenliness.”
Other witnesses described it as most essential, very desirable, most important, an excellent thing. “Put the brigades under the County Council and have Government inspectors,” said Mr. Roderick Henderson, J.P., the volunteer Chief Officer of Rickmansworth. “The inspection of fire brigades is more necessary than the inspection of the Police,” said the Chief Con- stable of Bristol. His colleague of Nottingham was instructed by his local authority to say that they would resent any interference but “speaking for my own part everything is better for supervision”.
The Town Clerk of Cardiff made the rather surprising assertion that inspection would be a good thing everywhere except in Cardiff where it was not necessary. He said that the city had a brigade established under the Cardiff Improvement Act, 1837, and it had been maintained ever since in a high state of efficiency and discipline: the corporation was always willing to provide them with everything without demur. Their equipment was the best that could be got. They were a grand sight and turned out within the minute! If all this was true, they should surely have welcomed inspection.
The contrary line came from the Chief Constable of Liverpool, who said “Inspection is scarcely required and would be very much resented.” Also from Mr. J. P. Williams, M.P. for Birmingham South. He eulogised the Birmingham Fire Brigade since its reorganisation in 1879, saying that Mr. Tozer was the most accomplished fireman in the kingdom and that his own opinion of the brigade was shared by the community of Birmingham. He was very strongly of the opinion that inspection would not increase efficiency. The Government had no right to interfere and he thought it would be no loss if the Government inspection of police was withdrawn. This would save the watch committee, when they had criticisms, being told by the Chief of Police that the men had passed inspection. Local authority would fulfl its duty without interference from outside.
The Committee heard a good deal of evidence on the question of police- fire brigades, but in the end they could have had little doubt that a factor which inclined local authorities to this type of brigade was economy and the possibility of including in the police vote a good deal of expenditure which should properly have been charged to the fire brigade, and thereby attracting 50 per cent. government grant. The Town Clerk of Norwich admitted that having a police brigade had made no difference to the total police establishment; that there was no separate fire brigade account and that he could not give the total cost of the brigade, there being little additional cost to the police cost. The Chief Constable got a guinea and each fireman 5s. for attending fires, which were announced by the firing of a maroon. There were nine selected men who had fire brigade uniform and changed into that from police uniform on hearing the rocket. Following public criticism after the disastrous fire the previous year the number of appliances had been increased and they got assistance from the military and from Colman’s Works Brigade.
Sunderland had also had some reorganisation following the serious fire the previous year and now had eight police- firemen who did no other duties and their wages therefore attracted no grant. Twenty-two other policemen did fire drill twice a week and could be called out, as could the whole force of 173 men in the event of a big fire, but only thirty of them were trained. “Naturally, a fire brigadesman ought to be a policeman,” said the Town Clerk. He was in favour of police brigades and considered the Sunderland Brigade more efficient than any other!
The Chief Constable of Bristol said he had twenty-eight police-firemen under a Chief Inspector. These were extra policemen employed as firemen. Every other policeman in the force did a certain amount of fire drill and was ready whenever required. When asked how often this drill was done, he finally admitted that it was “hardly once a month”. He agreed that some policemen did not make “the best material for the work”, especially those of fifteen and sixteen stone, that if the city ran a separate fire brigade they would want at least sixty men and not twenty-eight, and that the system was one of economy rather than efficiency. Personally he would be very glad to be without the fire brigade.
The Chief Constable of Nottingham said he had a Superintendent and Inspector and eight other men as permanent firemen. A further twenty-four of the policemen were trained and all the other 144 police did fire drill about once a month. He agreed that when a big fire occurred the efficiency of the watching of the city was lessened, and to a certain extent the city was left unprotected by police, but it was an economical plan for provincial cities. He was asked if when Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in- spected the police force he also inspected the fire brigade part of it. He replied: “He inspects them informally, more as a matter of interest than responsibility, and passes a kindly opinion.”
The Chief Constable of Liverpool had thirty-eight police-firemen under a Chief Superintendent and 357 of the city force had fire brigade training and were available for fires. Eighteen of these men were taken away from police duty each month and attached to the fire stations, doing fire brigade duty. At the end of the month they returned to the beat and were replaced by eighteen others. This seems an ingenious way of getting 50 per cent. grant on quite a big proportion of the fire brigade wage bill.
The Chief Constable did not think that the calling of police assistance to a big fire interfered with ordinary police duty to an extent which might be injurious, but he would certainly not advise a small town to have a police brigade unless they made an addition to the force.
The Chief Constable of Portsmouth admitted that there were no extra police by virtue of the fact that they also did fire brigade duty. There had been reorganisation after a serious fire with loss of life and he now had seventeen men specially trained under an Inspector who received assistance willingly given by naval and military fire brigades.
These four Chief Constables running police brigades all agreed that the fire brigade was a popular service with their men and that there was no lack of applicants. Nevertheless, there were certain inducements- extra pay of from 2s. to 4s. a week (worth 10s. to £1 today), free gas and free quarters or quarters at reduced rent at a time when free housing was not a standard police emolument.
The Chief Constable of the Borough of Lancaster combined his duties with that of Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade, but otherwise the brigade was quite separate, building workers being recruited on a retained basis and serving under him. He said that prior to this arrangement the police had “managed the fire appliances in a slipshod fashion” .
In Exeter Mr. William Pett, the Chief Officer, had two professional men, twenty retained men, and could call on the fifty-four police constables of the borough in the event of a large fire. In answer to a question, he said that when called upon they came directly under his command without recourse to the Chief Constable. This was an instruction of the City Council. When asked to what extent he called upon them he replied, “As little as possible”. Asked why, he said it was because they did not understand the principles of building construction and it would not be fair to them to send them into a burning building. Asked about their training, he said that a good many of the police were recruited from “agricultural pursuits” and you could not explain technicalities to them. It would be time thrown away to try to train them.
Captain the Hon. George Anson, Chief Constable of Staffordshire, said he declined to allow his men in any case to assist at a fire. They had no right to risk their lives at a fire and only went to keep order. At Rowley Regis the local authority had put some fire appliances at the police station and “left it between Providence and my men to work them in case of fire. I gave an order that definitely my men were not to touch them.”
Commander Wells agreed that in his provincial tours he had visited police brigades and considered that they were largely a method of dovetailing fire brigade expenses into the police vote to get government grant on them. It seemed obvious from other evidence that where horses were concerned something like this must have been going on. Horses were switched from mounted police work, to the fire station, to the black maria and back to the mounted police. When there was a big parade of mounted police there were not enough horses to go round and animals were temporarily hired from contractors for the fire engines. Even in separate brigades similar arrangements had been made. Mr. John Savage, Chief Officer of Manchester, said that in 1862 fire brigade horses had been used to draw prison vans, but the arrangement had been found so unsatisfactory that all connection with police affairs had been severed.
Mr. J. P. Williams, M.P., was the bitterest opponent of the police brigade. As a member of the Town Council he had taken an active part in the enquiry into the Birmingham Brigade in 1879. He said that the system under which the fire brigade was under the control of the police was a bad system. Policemen were not the most suitable persons for fire brigade work; they were appointed for other duties and to take them away from police work militated against the proper discharge of those duties. The business of dealing with fires was a profession in itself and was not naturally attached to police duty. To make men thoroughly efficient it was necessary to train them every day, and if policemen were subjected to such a process it is apparent that they will become far more firemen than policemen.
After the reorganisation of 1879, the Birmingham Brigade, from having been out of public favour, immediately came into public favour and though there had been fatal fires since, the public had always been satisfied that everything that could possibly be done to save life had been done.
The Home Office view on the police brigade was definite. Mr. Troup said “The view of the constabulary inspectors is that it is undesirable that the police should act as firemen. It denudes the streets of constables at the very time when their services are most required and interferes generally with the routine of the police force.”
When they discussed the alleged liability of insurance companies to subscribe to fire protection the Committee found a majority of witnesses in favour though no more than lukewarm on the subject. Several admitted that their brigade always sent a bill to the insurance company after attend- ing a fire in their borough, but this was done only as a forlorn hope, because they agreed that it was generally ignored and they had no legal right to enforce. Mr. Troup was quite definite that the duties of insurance companies were payment for losses by fire and not fire protection.
It was when they interviewed Mr. W. E. Hall, chairman of the Fire Offices Committee, that the Committee got hard facts, figures and definite statements. Insurance companies had to rate risks as they found them, and they had nothing whatever to do with fire extinction or the provision of fire appliances. He agreed that a great many years ago the offices had engines of their own, but that was at a time when fire extinction was not recognised as a public duty. Under a few old local Acts which were passed before the principle was properly understood the insurance companies did have certain liabilities, but in other places when local Acts were being passed through Parliament and cities had tried to include such clauses the insurance companies had opposed them before the Parliamentary Committee and in every case had got the clauses struck out on the grounds that fire extinction was a public duty.
Laying part of the duty on insurance companies merely increased premiums and it was taxing the prudent who insured for the benefit of the imprudent who did not.
A good deal of time was spent discussing the bogus brigades and some shocking stories were told of the activities of their promoters. Every witness was in favour of the Uniforms Act being extended to cover a standardised fire brigade uniform. But the bogus brigades were soon to die a natural death through the tightening up of legislation on charitable collections generally.
Three other matters of special interest were raised during the sessions- that standard specifications for all types of fire appliances should be drawn up for the guidance of purchasers, that chief fire officers should have legal powers to visit any premises to assess fire risk and that a central fire officers training school should be set up and run by the Government. The second of these caused some consternation among members of the Committee and was obviously regarded as an attack on individual freedom. They shewed considerable interest in the third and asked Commander Wells to draw up proposals and submit them as a document. This he did, suggesting a staff of fifteen under a Commandant who should receive £1,500 per annum. The salary of the Commandant of the Fire Service College in 1957 is only £1,800.
Some members, while expressing no surprise at the neglect of fire protection in rural and even many urban areas, appeared to feel that Government grant and inspection were out of the question. “Can you give us any justification for asking the Government to subsidise a district for the protection of its own property? asked Mr. Collings of a witness; and again to another witness: :Do you know of any precedent or any reason why a central Government should spend any money upon inspection or anything else in order to compel people to protect their own private property?”
The Committee issued their report on July 30th, 1900. They stated that they were of opinion:
“That Volunteer Fire Brigades, when they happen to have as Chiefs able and zealous men, may be efficient, but there is no guarantee that they possess adequate knowledge of the work of dealing with fires, and there are no safeguards against their being inefficient when called upon to act.
“That the practice of soliciting contributions from the general public is open to abuse, and is liable to be adopted for fraudulent purposes by “bogus” brigades.
“That so long as the system exists it is difficult to see how the public can be protected from the impositions complained of by an extension of the Uniforms Act alone.
“That if Fire Brigades were paid and controlled by local authorities the necessity for seeking public subscriptions would not arise, and the abuses connected with the practice would consequently disappear.
“Lastly, that the principle of entrusting the performance of a public duty to private and irresponsible persons is an unsound one, and that the results of the application of that principle to protection against fire are very unsatisfactory.
“From the evidence before them the Committee have come to the conclusion that for large cities and towns permanent Fire Brigades, professional or police, are necessary to provide adequate protection against fire, but that for smaller places and country districts the retained’ system is the most practicable, and is the one most calculated, under the circumstances, to secure the best protection available in the most economical manner.
“On the subject of the value of Police Brigades, concerning which a great deal of conflicting evidence was given, the Committee offer no opinion. They consider that the employment of policemen as firemen is a matter which should be left entirely to the judgment of the local authorities concerned.
“The Committee are of opinion that the practice of sending Fire Brigades from populous places to outside districts, often many miles away, is not a safe one. The towns to which the brigades belong being unprotected during the absence of the force, most serious consequences might result in case of fire.
“The Committee moreover think that the practice is a bad one in other respects. The assistance rendered is often ineffective on account of distance and loss of time. Further, there is little doubt that these places, many of them of considerable size and importance, would provide fire appliances of their own if it were once understood that they could not look elsewhere for aid in case of need.
“They consider that the present statutory enactments for providing against fire are so fragmentary, and so mixed up with and so incidental to important Acts of Parliament dealing with totally different subjects, that they are liable to lose their force as fire legislation.
“It appears to your Committee that considerable friction may arise if the onus of proceeding by mandamus were thrown upon a Government department in all cases of default, and in their opinion it would be better as a tentative course to try the effect of new legislation (as suggested by your Committee) and of public opinion, which it is confidently anticipated would put pressure on the local authorities to make the necessary pro- visions against fire.”
On inspection they said:
“The Committee think that the magnitude of the undertaking is far greater than was represented to them, and that to inspect annually all the Fire Brigades in the country in a manner sufficient to decide on their efficiency would require an army of trained inspectors, involving a large expenditure of public money.
“The case would be different if, as advocated by several witnesses, the Government were to pay a part of the cost of Fire Brigades as they pay a part of the cost of the Police, but this the Committee are not prepared to recommend. The Committee are of opinion that mere inspection by Government officials without the power to enforce the recommendations would not only fail in its object, but would be an interference with local affairs not warranted by the circumstances of the case.
“After a careful consideration of the large amount of evidence given on the subject the Committee find themselves unable to recommend any system of Government inspection of Fire Brigades and appliances.”
On a training school they said:
“The Committee consider, from the evidence received, that the many highly efficient Fire Brigades which exist throughout the country, together with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, constitute a sufficient training school for firemen. They think further that, if a system of training is required, the object would be cheaply and effectively secured by permitting the Chiefs of efficient Fire Brigades to receive pupils and to give them practical instruction in fire work. For these reasons the Committee do not recommend the establishment of a central training school.”
The report contained forty-one paragraphs on the relations between fire brigades and insurance companies and mentioned the great conflict of evidence on the subject, finally saying:
“The Committee, after a careful review of the whole case as it has been placed before them, have come to the conclusion that all fire insurance companies should be required by law to bear a certain portion of the expenses connected with fire extinction, which is an obligation already recognised by some of the most important companies.
“They do not think that there would be any difficulty in settling the form in which the contributions should be levied. Perhaps the more convenient way would be to legalise the method which fire insurance companies to such a large extent voluntarily adopt at the present time.
“By this method insurance companies, in case of fire in premises insured by them, would be required by law to pay for the use of appliances and for services rendered at each individual fire according to the local scale of charges, which apparently it is the custom of most fire authorities to frame.”
With regard to who should run the fire brigades, the Committee came to the opinion that the county was too large to be a suitable fire unit and stated that they had
“without hesitation come to the conclusion that rural district councils, if înancial and other powers were conferred upon them, would be more likely to take an interest in the work, and be more able to discharge it with cheapness and efficiency than any other bodies.
“The Committee therefore recommend that rural district councils be the legally constituted fire authorities for all parts of the country, except for the populous places’ already referred to; but that provision should be made to enable any parish council, having regard to the size and popu- lation of the parish, to be constituted a separate fire authority.”
They added that:
“the present statutory enactments for providing against fire are insuflicient and that the inadequate provision against fire, shewn to exist so largely throughout the country, is due sometimes to apathy on the part of local authorities, sometimes to ignorance or doubt (caused by defective legis- lation) on the part of such authorities as to the powers they actually possess, and frequently to undue reliance on outside help.”
The final recommendations were:
“New Legislation. That an Act of Parliament should be passed repealing all previous Acts so far as they relate to fire, and conferring on fire authorities well defined powers to provide Fire Brigades and to make such other arrangements for protection against fire as they may deem necessary,
“Fire Authorities. That the local authorities of cities, county and non- county boroughs, and urban districts (defined in the report as `populous places’) should be the constituted fire authorities for those places, and that rural district councils should be the constituted fire authorities for dealing with fire in villages, hamlets, and in all other parts of the country except °populous places’, but that provision should be made to enable any parish council, having regard to the size and population of the parish, to be constituted a separate fire authority.
“Superannuation. That where professional Fire Brigades are maintained fire authorities should be empowered to establish superannuation schemes for the benefit of the firemen employed, such schemes to be on the lines of the Police Acts, 1890-1893, and that in the case of °retained` brigades fire authorities should have power to insure the firemen against death or dis- ablement while in discharge of duty, and to make such other provisions as regards gratuities and pensions as they may deem advisable.
“Theatres and other Public Buildings. That no licence should be granted to any theatre, music hall, or other place of public resort until the local authorities have satisfied themselves that suitable fire appliances and means of escape for the persons frequenting the same have been provided, and that those in charge of such appliances should be qualified men, with no other work to perform while on duty as firemen.
“Public Records of Fires. That, in order to ascertain the extent of the loss of life and property occasioned by fire, fire authorities should be required to send to a Government Department full particulars of all fires as they occur, and that annual reports should be published containing the informa- tion So obtained.
“Fire Insurance Companies. That fire insurance companies should be re quired to contribute some portion of the expenses connected with fire extinction.
The National Fire Brigades Union were not pleased with the report, which they considered unfairly condemned the volunteer brigades who made up the bulk of their membership: “Gentlemen of position and substantial tradesmen” , they said, “would not officer brigades of men who joined for the sake of a retaining fee and payments for fires from the local authority” . But they need not have worried, for no action was taken. The report was put away and not seen again until twenty-one years later, when its recommendations and minutes of evidence were perused by yet another Commission.