Flashback: ‘Fire training was like every boy’s dream job’

A Green Goddess fire engine at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum in Leyland
A Green Goddess fire engine at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum in Leyland
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Following the Guardian’s look at the development and history of the Washington Hall Fire Service Training Centre in Euxton, BRIAN RILEY, a member of Lancashire Authors’ Association, gives his account of training with the Green Goddess fire engine there.

In the 1950s, nearly all the young men of my age were liable to be conscripted for National Service, and for me this meant that shortly after my 18th birthday I was in the Royal Air Force.

A large part of my training was to make me aware of what to do if I found myself anywhere other than ground zero when a nuclear weapon was deployed.

Two years later, with demobilisation on the near horizon, I was sent on a two-week course to the Fire Training Centre at Washington Hall, Euxton.

It was every boy’s dream! Using the Green Goddess self-propelled pumps, driven by a member of staff, we careered about the station.

We put out imaginary fires using hoses and branches carried on the Goddesses. We used their ladders to scale the towers; girder-built construction simulating multi-storey buildings.

We learned that it was scarier to be carried down in a fireman’s lift than it was to carry someone else up.

We took the lightweight Coventry Climax engines out of their storage compartments and used them to power hoses and, by fixing a small branch directly to them, to turn a ‘bikini’ rubber dinghy into a jet boat.

We buzzed around the lake-sized ‘emergency water supply’ (EWS) tank using jet power. We connected large diameter pipes together to take water from the EWS tank, all around the buildings to squirt it back into the tank, which simulated getting water to a fire a considerable distance from a natural supply.

At the passing-out parade the Senior Fire Officer told us that because we were all used to military discipline we had completed in our two weeks, a course that ‘civilian’ recruits did in 14 weeks.

The Ministry of Defence informed us that we were liable to further training in the interest of Civil Defence.

I was ordered to report to a Fire Service Unit in the Midlands for that training, as part of my ‘reserve commitment’ – but a month before I was due to go, the course was cancelled.

- You can read about the history of the facility here.