Tributes to Spalding fireman legend Dennis who was ‘the last of the old guard’
Firefighters and a vintage fire engine were on parade to honour ex Spalding fireman Dennis Fell, who has died aged 85.
Dennis was a wholetime fireman for 25 years and his original fire engine is now in a Norfolk museum but the same model came to Spalding from Louth as firefighters paid tribute to an inspirational figure.
Spalding Baptist Church, where Dennis was an active member for many years, was packed for his funeral on Thursday.
Dennis was born in the town’s Gore Lane, attending Willesby and Gleed schools, and met his wife, Edith, when they both worked for his aunt and uncle, Joyce and Percy Mews at Pinchbeck.
Dennis was on the agricultural side while Edith was in domestic service.
The couple celebrated their diamond wedding in 2013. Dennis leaves family including Edith, son Tony, daughter Denise, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
“He loved his time in the fire service ... he was the last of the old guard,” said Tony. “He was very friendly, would help anybody in need and had a good sense of humour. He was a wonderful husband to my mum, a loving father to Denise and me, and a loving grandfather and great-grandfather. He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered, not just by his family.”
Dennis’s fascination with World War One saw him visiting The Somme battlefields and attending services at Menin Gate.
He loved amateur theatre and was a member of SADOS for more than 40 years, making stage appearances to play characters such as Bill Sykes in Oliver and Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, and loved singing with his brothers in village halls in the 60s and 70s as well as being a member of a gospel choir.
He also produced dramas at his church and loved to sing there.
Spalding Baptist Church secretary David Taylor said: “Dennis was such a gentle giant, in a way. He was a lovely man, always smiling, he had always got one of those funny little quips that he would share with you.
“He served in various ways in the church, stewarding and things like that.
“He was a really nice guy.”
South divisional fire commander Sean Taylor said: “His former colleagues described him as an exceptionally friendly and welcoming individual and a true professional who was a real asset to the local community.”
When Dennis joined the fire service, it was called Holland County Fire Brigade and he was based at Spalding’s old fire station in Double Street.
At that time, four men would man the watch room round the clock, taking it in turns to sleep overnight.
Speaking in 2013, Dennis told us: “We’d be on duty day and night and got about three calls a week depending on the time of the year, but a lot were in the middle of the night.”
When the station received a call, whoever was on duty would “hit the bells” because all the firemen – including up to 12 retained firemen – had bells in their houses.
Dennis recalled: “It was a bit Heath Robinson, but that’s how it worked in those days. 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.”
Dennis also shared memories of firemen hanging on to the side of a fire engine, still getting dressed, as it went to a call.