Spalding’s last full time fireman

Up until the early 1970s, if you were unlucky enough to experience a fire in the middle of the night it was probably Dennis Fell who came to the rescue.

Dennis, of Avebury Gardens, in Spalding, is the last whole time fireman in the town.

Fireman's lift: Dennis Fell pictured learning the technique that he never had to use in anger during his 25 years of service at Spalding Fire Station.

Fireman's lift: Dennis Fell pictured learning the technique that he never had to use in anger during his 25 years of service at Spalding Fire Station.

As the clock comes full circle, and there are once again proposals to man the station in West Elloe Avenue on a 24-hour basis, Dennis has been reflecting on his 25 years in the service.

The 81-year-old joined the fire service in 1961 at a time when four men would man the watch room round the clock, taking it in turns to sleep overnight.

That continued until 1973-4 when Lincolnshire Fire Brigade took over what had been Holland County Fire Brigade.

After that time, 999 calls would be controlled by radio but Dennis remembers a time when they would have gone direct to the old fire station in Westlode Street.

Dennis says: “We’d be on duty day and night and got about three calls a week, depending on the time of year, but a lot were in the middle of the night.”

When the station received a call, Dennis says whoever was on duty would “hit the bells” because at that time all the firemen – the permanent staff as well as as many as 12 retained firemen – had house bells.

“It was a bit Heath Robinson, but that’s how it worked in those days,” he said. “We rang the bell on the desk and it rang a proper fire bell in the house. Then the siren would go up on the Sessions House – not during the night of course – so the firemen at work would hear the siren – if the wind was blowing the right way.

“If all systems failed we’d actually fire a maroon, a type of distress rocket, though I never had the privilege of firing one.”

The siren was tested at 10am every Monday morning up until 1973 – and the permanent crew were also responsible for testing the sirens at the retained stations at Long Sutton and Holbeach on a weekly basis.

The firemen had to scramble to get to the station – Dennis says they would be gone within seven or eight minutes. He recalls: “We had occasions when we were hanging on to the side of the fire engine still getting dressed as much as we could.”

Naturally, there were major incidents, mostly involving road accidents although Dennis remembers a house in Cheal Road at Surfleet being burned out and the night of the 1976 gales when they were out all night attending to fallen trees, tiles and chimneys.

The rest of the time, the team was kept busy performing heroic acts – rescuing cats from trees.