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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The History of the Baker Perkins Fire Brigade

by Arthur Hitch

Following the disastrous fire on 2nd March 1922, when 200,000 worth (at that time) of damage was done to the East Side of the Works, the first reference to the formation of a Works Fire Brigade, was made in Board of Management Minute No. 7 of Meeting No. 139 held on 11th September 1933, when following a small outbreak of fire the previous month, (suspected to be sabotage) Mr. F.C. Ihlee and Mr. J.H. Booth were appointed as a committee to investigate fire precautions in general and what steps could be taken to form a volunteer Fire Brigade.

The results of this Minute were not very quickly implemented, as it was not until four years later in August 1937, that an appeal was made for Volunteers to form a Brigade, following a report and recommendation made by John Fowler the previous month. This recommended that a fire alarm system should also be established and in addition, mention was made about the need for men to be trained in Air Raid Precautions.

Twenty Volunteers soon responded to the appeal and the Brigade was formed in October 1937 with H.A. Coggan as Chief Officer, C. Farrington as 2nd Officer plus twelve Firemen. A Trailer Pump, uniforms and extra hose were obtained early in 1938 and the first Fire Drill Competitions were entered in July of that year. The fire station was built in 1939.

The Brigade was originally formed under the name Westwood Works Fire Brigade, but owing to their many outside contacts at Competitions, etc., where "Westwood Works" was not readily recognised away from Peterborough, the name was changed to Baker Perkins Fire Brigade in September 1945.

Initially, the mobilisation of the firemen was done during working hours only by sounding the fire alarm, or by a running call. In May 1941, a rather cumbersome call bell system was installed in certain firemen's houses, so that a limited 24-hour cover could be maintained. The system was later taken over by the G.P.O. in 1947 and was modernised in 1963. In September 1980 the bell system was replaced by pocket pagers with a reception of 25 miles radius, being issued to every fireman; this permitted the use of the fire alarms in the Works and Offices being confined to acting as an evacuation signal only. In 1977, the Security Department started using a two-way radio system, which was also available for Fire Brigade use.

The strength of the Brigade was augmented by several Auxiliary Firemen in September 1938 after the Munich crisis and again at the outbreak of war in September 1939, when the original strength was nearly trebled; additional equipment was obtained, including a second Trailer Pump; some of the equipment was a Government issue. A few of the original members were called to the Forces, including the Chief Officer, so that in 1941 C. Farrington was appointed Chief Officer and C. Ibbotson, 2nd Officer. Over 180 Fire Watchers were also trained by the Brigade during the war, as well as organising duty rotas and supervising their duties, which were to be stationed in all parts of the Works and Offices during air raid alerts to report any outbreaks of fire.

The availability of adequate water for fire fighting was a major cause for concern up until 1970. Although hydrants were installed in the water mains down each side of the factory shortly after the 1922 fire, the pressure was often below 10 p.s.i.g. until the street feeder mains were connected to a new trunk main installed down what is now Ivatt Way in June 1960, giving pressures of 30 to 40 p.s.i.g. A sprinkler system was installed in the Paint Shop in 1916 with an elevated gravity feed tank by the East Sidings; the system was extended to the newly built Pattern Shop, Pattern Stores and Timber Shed in 1928, the PI Bay of the Plate Shop in 1935 and the "Open" Store in 1956. Then in 1970, an extensive new system was put in to cover the Machine Shops, Fitting Shops, Stores and Maintenance; new water storage tanks and pumps made the elevated tank obsolete, which was taken down in 1972. A further extension was made into the S6 and S7 Bays of the Foundry in 1973 to allow the Paint Shop and Despatch to be moved in. In 1941, following the earlier air raids, static water supply tanks were built around the Works and one on the Office Block Roof; these were dismantled after the war, but the one near the Apprentice School was re-instated in 1956, to form a pumping "buffer" between the multiple hydrants by the Passport Office and a possible serious fire.

During the war, it was fortunate that none of the outbreaks of fire dealt with by the Brigade were caused through enemy action, although there were one or two incidents quite close to the Works. When the many separate Local Authority Fire Services in the Country and the Auxiliary Fire Service were amalgamated into the one National Fire Service in 1941, it was decided that the Works Brigade would not become affiliated to it, as it was considered that they should not be placed in a position where they might be called away from the Works, so leaving the premises unprotected.

At the end of the war, the strength of the Brigade was reduced in June 1945 to a compliment of 2 Officers and 16 Men, Both the war time Officers retired and P.J. Bartram was appointed Chief Officer and C. Cross 2nd Officer. In April 1950 P.J. Bartram retired and C. Cross was appointed Chief Officer and J.B. Reynolds Deputy Chief Officer; in January 1958, C. Cross was appointed Deputy Chief and Fire Prevention Officer for health reasons and J.B. Reynolds took his place as Chief Officer.

In 1948, the two Trailer Pumps and a hose cart were augmented with a secondhand Self-propelled Pump/Tender, which was later changed for another secondhand Self-propelled Heavy Pump in 1952. In 1963, a new Land Rover Self-propelled Pump was obtained. In March 1969 a new Portable featherweight Pump was obtained and the original Trailer/Pump was sold. In 1971, the vintage Heavy Pump was changed for a second-hand Water Tender, giving a compliment of a Commer Water Tender, a Land Rover Pump and a trailer mounted Featherweight Pump.

In 1948, an oxygen type breathing apparatus set was obtained, but this was changed for a compressed air set in 1951. From 1970 until 1980, the number of compressed air sets was increased to five and one spare.

Since the National Fire Service was regionalised in 1948, a very close liaison had been maintained with the various Local Authority or County Fire Services which succeeded it; the liaison taking many different forms, including training, fire safety and prevention advice, repair of equipment and availability for assistance at major disasters. Practical assistance had been given at a few local incidents, including a train derailment alongside the Works in September 1955, the Cowgate Shopping Centre fire in August 1956, and the hurricane damage around the district in January 1976.

In May 1957, the Fire Brigade instituted an evacuation scheme for the multi storey office block by the use of Floor Wardens. The scheme worked well and was extended to apply to all the offices.

In January 1967, arrangements were made for the Westwood Sports Field to become the registered landing ground for helicopters ferrying emergency cases to and from the District Hospital. This facility was used once or twice a year, with the Fire Brigade assisting the County Fire Service with fire cover and ground crew duties.

During 1971, smoke and heat detectors were installed in and around the Main Computer Room. Further detectors were installed in part of the Experimental Department in 1977, the CAD areas in 1979 and the Old Office basements in 1982.

In November 1973, a fire in an oil quench tank in the Heat Treatment Department spread to the roof, causing 26,000 worth of damage and proved to be the most serious outbreak since 1922.

In December 1976, C. Cross retired as Deputy Chief Officer and A.W. Hitch was promoted to fill the vacancy.

At the end of 1977 and the beginning of 1978, all Local Authority whole-time Firemen were on strike from 14th November until 16th January, during which time any late assistance from outside the site might have been from the Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade or a Retained Station outside the City. The Brigade, in turn, was asked to provide cover for the District Hospital complex in case of fire. In neither case was any action required.

The Management had always maintained an interest in the Brigade's activities from the outset, with J.H. Booth becoming their first President in 1937 and A.I. Baker (later Sir Ivor) taking over in 1941. On the suggestion in 1949 by the only Vice President, E.R. Dick, all the Directors were invited to become Vice Presidents as well, to which they readily agreed. In 1976 on Sir Ivor Baker's retirement, J.F.M. Braithwaite (later Sir Franklin) took over the Presidency until 1981, when E.B. Thain became the Brigade's President. Upon E.B. Thain's retirement Mike Leggatt took over the Presidency of the Brigade until I.D. Mackay agreed to accept the role in March 1991, a position he held until the Brigade at Westwood ceased to function.

Following the retirement of J.B. Reynolds in October 1983, A.W. Hitch became Chief Officer and W.G. Blades was appointed as Deputy Chief Officer.

In July 1984 the brigade took delivery of a Bedford Water Tender which the Local Authority brigade had arranged to supply on permanent loan, this was replaced by them in June 1988 by a Dodge Water Tender when it became increasingly difficult and extremely costly to obtain spares for the Bedford appliance.

In February 1986, after great deliberation, it was decided to change the name of the Brigade to Baker Perkins Fire and Emergency Service as it was felt that this more adequately reflected the changing role of the Brigade and the service that it provided.

The Brigade's area of cover was extended in 1985/86 with the move to Bretton by the Bakery part of the organisation and the Printing Control Systems Section. The Bakery Company remained at Bretton for just twelve months, during which period a team of employees were trained as a Fire Party, but did not find it necessary to use an extinguisher in anger during the short period that they remained away from the main site.

Following its acquisition by APV in 1988 the Fire Service became the APV Baker Fire and Emergency Service. Following the sale of the Printing Company, and the site, in early 1989, the name was again changed, becoming Rockwell Fire and Emergency Service. Further changes will become necessary as APV Baker, the food company, proposed building a new office and factory complex into which they planned to move during the latter part of 1991. At this time 7 members of the Brigade would move from the Westfield Road site, as they were directly employed by that company.

In January 1990, Wally Blades retired from active service with the Brigade and Dave Smith was promoted to fill the role of Deputy Chief Officer.

When APV Baker moved to their new site at Paston in July 1991, it was decided that they would support their own Emergency Team therefore the 7 men lost to this site assumed responsibility for the fire and emergency protection of the new site from day 1 under the leadership of Phil Smith.

It had long been appreciated that Rockwell PMC Ltd had been affected by the worldwide slump in the printing industry, which was reflected in the redundancy programmes that had to be implemented. The announcement on 4th October 1991 that manufacture on the Westwood site was to cease by March 1992 was received with great sadness as it was realised that the Fire and Emergency Service would become a casualty together with all employees associated with the manufacturing side of the business.

Whilst it would be easy to walk away from their responsibilities given the circumstances, the unanimous decision of the members of the service was that they would continue to give the Company the total commitment that had been given during the 54 years that the service had been in existence, until there were insufficient members employed to maintain the service. Effectively this meant that the Brigade would continue to function until End January 1992 at the earliest and End March 1992 at the latest.

A.W. Hitch 11/10/1991

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