Photos spark memories of fire station

East Wittering  fire crew with borrowed vehicle 1955
East Wittering fire crew with borrowed vehicle 1955

EAST Wittering fire station pictures from last week’s Observer sparked a response from one reader who remembered the station over the years.

Laurie Crisp said he was interested in the article as his family was involved with the fire service in the village, which was started in 1934 as a voluntary service by his uncle and father, Jack and Jim Steel.

East Wittering Fire Service in 1949

East Wittering Fire Service in 1949

The pair are mentioned in an article from the Southern Weekly News, on Saturday, November 2, 1935.

The article reads: “East Wittering residents ought to be very grateful to Mr Jack Steel and to his brother Jim who 18 months ago started the local brigade.

“East Wittering means to make its mark among the fire brigades of this country. Mr Jack Steel, the local postmaster, is the Captain, and his brother Jim, who helps his mother at the Royal Oak, is second officer. Two keen lads.”

Laurie said his father Bert Crisp was also a voluntary member of the East Wittering fire brigade.

Laurie wrote: “The station was a wooden hut built alongside the parish rooms (the village hall) and housed a hand-drawn cart bought off the Selsey Fire Service for £5.

“It housed several lengths of hose, some ‘branches’ and numerous buckets and mainly relied on the pressure in the mains for spraying water. The station was started to allay the fears of summer home-owners whose properties were built of timber.

“When war came in 1939 this service was put on a proper footing under the auspices of the NFS (National Fire Service) and the local electricity board’s showroom was commandeered in Oakfield Road to house the team of part-time fire men and a fire engine – an American Lincoln limousine which towed an auxiliary pump. I recall my father did not approve of the uniform they had to wear for the hat was more like a frying pan and without a peak – like a sailor’s hat.

“Jim Steel, my father, and the rest of the original crew with the exception of Jack Steel (the founder) served under the leadership of a Mr Morgan (a local school master) as station officer.

“When their wartime duties started, a team of these voluntary firemen had to, on a rota system, sleep at this new station. One night due to gunfire the whole glass front windows were shattered and had to be bricked up.

“They finally had fire bells installed in their own homes which I remember were so loud that when they had a ‘call out’, everybody in the terraced houses at Admiralty Row were woken up by the bells of our house and that of another fireman (Bert Courtney) who lived in the Row.

“In the early 1950s under the leadership of Jim Steel (and the West Sussex Fire Service) the new station was built on the original ‘showroom’ wartime site.

“When both my father and my uncle retired, the station officer became Harold Bedford and from thereon to the present day all station officers and crew have been local men. In commemoration of Jim Steel’s leadership, service, and fundraising for the Fire Service Benevolent Fund, the RIB Fire Rescue boat housed at the East Wittering Station is named Jim Steel.”