Stockton Heath Fire Station History

On this page you can find out all about the history of Stockton Heath Fire Station.

Early Formation

In 1947 it was decided that the National Fire Service should be reorganised into a series of regional Fire Brigades. At that time there were 23,500 firemen in England and Wales with an additional 18,000 part time personnel, including a small number of women. It was recognised that these numbers were to prove too small for future requirements.

Cheshire County Fire Department was formed on 1 April 1948 after a period of nationalisation spanning six and a half years.

The years following the second world war were a time of great shortages. A plea was made to the new Fire Brigades from His Majesty's Stationery Office that, when disposing of NFS documents all pins, tags, paperclips and file covers should be saved. Severe problems also arose in finding suitable housing for the firemen, firewomen and their families. This continued to be a problem into the next decade.


The 50s

The summer of 1949/50 was exceptionally dry and this led to a considerable increase in the number of fires, with a 33% rise in the number of calls.

There was also an increase of malicious calls, with 53 being noted in that year. It was a worrying trend that was to continue until 1956/57.

At that time about a third of fires were either chimney fires or were caused by children playing with matches. Sparks from railway locomotives were also a problem. A growing area of work was special service calls, many involving the rescue of animals from "precarious positions".

Fire prevention was stepped up with the number of inspections almost doubling in 1950. In 1952/52 a Fire Safety campaign was launched with films shown in every cinema including "Every Five Minutes" and "Fire The Enemy".

Recruitment was a major issue facing the Brigade. A major recruitment drive was launched in 1950 but many officers were leaving the service for more remunerative employment in industry. Another problem was the suitability of candidates. In 1953/54, of the 102 who applied to join only 20 were found to be satisfactory.

After protracted negotiations with the Police, limited participation in a trial of wireless communication was agreed. For the first time fire stations would be linked by radio and by the mid-50s 25 fire appliances had radio communications.

Many fire station premises were found to be totally unsuitable. Many had unsatisfactory facilities with drills being carried out on public thoroughfares. New fire stations were opened at Audlem in 1954/55 - the first since the formation of the brigade - and Ellesmere Port in 1956. New temporary premises were found for Tarporley in the following year. Poynton Fire Station and Bebington Fire Station came into operation in 1958 and 1959 respectively.

New made-to-measure fire tunics with greater protective quality were introduced in 1953/54. Similar arrangements were to follow for part-time staff. Subsequently a new type of helmet was issued to all members of the brigade.

In the early 1950s 240 members of the Brigade became qualified in the use of breathing apparatus. Demonstrations were given in using the equipment underwater. Special thanks were given to the Mines Rescue Station at Boothstown who helped in testing the breathing apparatus.


The 60s

The summer of 1960 saw a major water shortage and the Brigade assisted in laying over one mile of six inch pipe between a moorland stream and a reservoir in Macclesfield. 200,000 gallons a day were pumped for a period of several weeks.

The upward trend in calls, fatalities, special service calls and injuries to firefighters continued throughout the decade. In 1963/64 the number of calls rose to a high of 7450 and 18 people lost their lives. Many were elderly people living alone who died trying to keep warm in the severe winter.

By the end of the decade all calls to the Brigade in Cheshire were received in the central Control Room at Brigade Headquarters. Home Office statistics highlighted in 1969/70 an increase on 20% in property fires costing �120 million of damage.

The Cheshire section of the M6 Motorway had opened in the November.

A growing trend of special service calls arose in 1964/65. These included the Brigade assisting with beach cleaning operations in Cornwall during May following the Torrey Canyon tanker disaster and assistance with disinfecting operations at hundreds of farms throughout the county affected by the dreadful Foot and Mouth disease.

Perhaps not in the same category of special service call, but an unprecedented search involving 182 members of the Brigade, also took place to find a missing school girl.

The joint Police - Fire Service Wireless Scheme became so congested in 1962 that an independent frequency for exclusive use of the Fire Brigade was agreed. A Wireless Scheme independent of the Police was achieved a year later.

Complaints started in the mid 60s regarding the use of sirens to summon part-time firemen. Sounding mechanisms were adjusted to reduce the time of sounding 30 seconds. A growing number of complaints was reduced by the late 60s and alternative methods were to be sought to alert the part-time service.

The County Council's Fire Brigade Committee introduced the first Junior Fireman Scheme in the mid- 60s. Under the scheme boys were enrolled at 16 years and until 18 years undertook further education and training. A serious shortage of staff was reported in this period with many experienced members of the Brigade leaving to take better paid jobs in industrial Brigades. By the end of the decade note was again made of the recruiting problem; finding staff with the right physical and educational standards was as big a problem as ever.


The 70s

The 1970s saw the first major revision of the Brigade since 1948 with amalgamations between Lancashire County, Warrington County Borough and Chester City. Widnes, which had previously been part of the Lancashire County Fire Brigade, Warrington County Brigade and the City Of Chester Fire Brigade all joined to form a smaller Cheshire Fire Brigade, the word County having been dropped from the Brigade title. The Wirral became part of Merseyside and Hyde, Stalybridge, Dukinfield, Marple, Altrincham and Sale joined Greater Manchester. Cheshire now had 23 stations.

By 1976 the Chief Officer was battling to try and make savings of �38,000. He reported to the Committee that this could not be done without reducing manpower.

The 70s are remembered by many as a decade of change and industrial unrest. The decade began with an industrial dispute and was to culminate in 1978 with a strike lasting 9 weeks.

It started when the Fire Brigades Union, instructed its members to refuse all duties except answering emergency calls. This situation existed for 7 weeks. The Government promised to set up an enquiry to evaluate a fireman's job. It was hoped this would form the basis of a future pay structure.

The strike lasted 9 weeks and ended following much bitterness. Fire losses in Cheshire were fortunately small compared with some areas, though there was one major fire at Rock Oil Warrington and a number of serious domestic fires.

The issue of using sirens to alert retained staff was addressed with the introduction of pocket alerters. Other technological developments saw research into infra-red equipment for viewing through smoke. More modern materials were used to replace the old woollen fire tunics. A microfiche system was introduced making obsolete the mobilising cards used in the Control Room.

New fire engines were tendered for the late 70s for the first time incorporating steel safety cabs and a skid check breaking system.

A staff suggestion scheme was introduced. The princely sum of £3.00 was awarded to a member of staff who proposed an identification board for locating incidents on complex motorway systems.

The early 1970s saw the introduction of fire safety education into the school curriculum. Television also started to play a major part with the launch of a national campaign to try to prevent children playing with matches.


The 80s

In the early 80s the Association of County Councils condemned a report from the Chief and Assistant Fire Chief Officers' Association suggesting the nationalisation of the Fire Service. "Responsibility for the Fire Service clearly and rightly rests with the elected local government" said the ACC.

An emphasis on efficiency and financial controls continued to be an issue. In 1986 the Audit Commission Report "Value For Money In the Fire Service" stated that in Cheshire "one reason for the relatively modest value improvement potential is that the Fire Service appears to be notably well managed." They also concluded: "it is difficult to avoid asking whether the Service would be better off with longer hours on call and higher pay."

Recruitment difficulties also continued to cause problems. A proposal for a Junior Firefighters Scheme for school leavers with financial assistance from the County Council's Youth Training Scheme was requested in 1987. This was subsequently to become known as the Apprentice Firefighters Scheme.

Word processing technology was introduced at Brigade Headquarters and Divisions in 1983 and a completely new radio system was installed at Vaughan's Lane Chester in 1984.

At this time Knutsford received new heavy rescue hydraulic cutting and spreading gear - the location being chosen due to its proximity to the motorway network. Also purchased were two sets of equipment to seal leaks on tanks and a thermal thermometer which could be pointed from some distance at tanks and pipework to establish internal temperatures.

One of the greatest tragedies of recent times occurred in 1986 when a holiday flight caught fire on take-off from Manchester Airport. Wilmslow Fire Station who rescued one of the last survivors was awarded a citation from Greater Manchester Fire Service for their work at the disaster. This incident was instrumental in providing a major review of airline safety.

By the late 80s a Computerised Stores System to provide "effective low cost solutions to existing clerical problems" was installed at Winsford. The system assisted in stock control and general administration.

1989 saw the purchase of the first thermal imaging camera. Its effectiveness in locating trapped victims was noted and further cameras were purchased in future years.

Finally late in the decade the Brigade attended the First Annual General Meeting of the Welephant Club. Cheshire's Welephant went on to become a key feature of fire safety education.


The 90s

The Brigade installed a telephone answering service into which members of the media could telephone for the latest information about incidents that were being attended. This "voicebank" system was in response to the greatly increased number of calls from media organisations.

Cheshire introduced an education programme to primary schools which taught young children how to react if caught in smoke. Initially this proposal caused some concern with educationalists, but was subsequently proved to save lives in Cheshire with young people putting the lessons into practice.

The Chief Fire Officer was commended for his work on introducing Fire Engineering Degrees. In September 1991 the first degrees of this kind world wide were made available through the University of Central Lancashire, enabling firefighters to become Chartered Fire Engineers.

1992 a management review began the process that would see an end to the historic Divisional Structure and a move to a style of management more befitting a modern Fire Brigade. The Home Office approved the move from three Divisions to a new structure and the establishment changes that this would entail.

Fire Brigade Headquarters and the former home of famous Victorian architect John Douglas was advertised in Country Life in 1996 in order to attract potential purchasers. This was the final phase of the move onto one site at Winsford.

At this time Teddy Bears started riding with first-line appliances - the idea being to comfort children following fire or accidents. The same year Her Majesty's Inspector comments on Cheshire noted an: "efficient and effective Brigade, particularly the high morale of the firefighters."

Road accidents involving people trapped in vehicles had grown by 50% over this decade. As a result all first-line appliances were equipped with newly available hi-tech cutting and spreading equipment. Frodsham - the first station to be equipped - was sponsored by funds raised at the Bull's Head public house after the tragic death of a customer.

The risk from the many chemical plants in the county led to a major educational drive within the local community. A video was produced for schools and leaflets distributed to every house in Cheshire.

The brigade started a scheme called Fire Cadets at Poynton. Similar to the Scouts or Guides, it encouraged young people between 14-17 to take part in community activity and training.

The new Gallet or Eurohelmet was purchased for firefighters which offered a far higher level of protection than the traditional cork helmet which dated from the just after the war. They soon proved their worth in preventing injuries where the old helmets would have failed.

The extreme weather in the summer of 1995 led to a great increase in calls - over 1000 in one weekend. This caused budgetary problems at the end of the financial year mainly due to turnout fees for retained firefighters.

In March 1997, a final farewell function was organised at Walmoor House to which staff and retired members were invited. In October the Duke Of York officially opened the new headquarters marking the start of a new era.

On 1 April 1998 the Cheshire County Council shared its responsibility for Cheshire Fire Service as part of the new Cheshire Fire Authority with Halton and Warrington Unitary Councils. This was 50 years from the date that Cheshire County Fire Brigade Department had been formed. The Brigade continued to serve its operational area with dedication, courage, selfless determination and professional skill. The future contains new challenges with national discussions and amalgamations, standards of fire cover, fire safety, conditions of service and new goals of cost effectiveness. Whatever the outcome, Cheshire firefighters are proud of their history and prepared for the future.

Last updated: Thursday 10 September 2015