History of Bradford fire brigade reveals the service's deadliest years

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From mill blazes to the Low Moor disaster, Bradford City Fire Brigade has faced challenges and tragedies during its long and distinguished history.

And now a new book written by a serving firefighter aims to bring stories of the heroism of yesteryear to light.

Chris Smith's project covers the period from the brigade's founding in 1800 to its amalgamation into the modern West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service in 1974.

Among the early firefighting pioneers who are profiled in the book is James Scott, who joined in 1876 and rose through the ranks to become chief fire officer until his retirement in 1926.

Scott was the leader of the response to the catastrophic fire and explosion at the Low Moor wartime munitions factory in 1916, and his work led to Bradford gaining a reputation as a forward-thinking force which embraced professionalism.

They adopted motorised fire engines in 1910, but had to employ a trained driver to handle them.

Scott and the driver were seriously injured by one of the first blasts at the Low Moor factory, having driven into the works on the Hayhurst, the newest engine in the fleet.

It was Scott’s second-in-command, Superintendent Robert Forbes, who pulled him from the wreckage before returning to rescue several other unconscious firemen who would have lost their lives had it not been for Forbes’ bravery.

Forbes was rewarded by the King by being presented the Albert Medal – an equivalent of the Victoria Cross for the non-military, which was replaced later by the George Medal.

The hero of the blast suffered from the effects of the chemical leaks for the rest of his life, and emigrated to Australia to recuperate.

“My latest book charts a period of real change in the fire brigade when many new ‘firsts’ were experienced, and innovative thinkers made a lasting impact," said Chris.

“This was also a time of great challenge to the brigade, with many large fires occurring, especially in the huge industrial mill buildings with many hundreds of employees.

“In 1913 alone the brigade dealt with more than 30 major blazes – and in those early days industrial strife bubbled under the surface, particularly during the dark days of the ‘depression.’

“The book has been a real labour of love and I hope it helps ensure that the heroes of the hour will be honoured in history for years to come.”

Recently a traditional firefighter’s helmet from the period when Scott and Forbes were officers has been donated to the Service by a Mr Yarnold, who lived at the old Nelson Street Fire Station in Bradford as a boy. He used to look at the silver helmet in its display case and was told about the days of old by the men at the station, including his father. The helmet has been cared for through generations by Mr Yarnold and as it is an officer’s helmet, it is believed to have possibly belonged to Forbes or Scott.

Chris will be attended Bradford City Hall this Saturday (September 9) for the launch of his book, which will be available to buy and priced at £20.

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