Alan Swales grew up virtually living on Stokesley Fire Station, where his father was a fireman and his mother the cook. It was war time, and the Brigade, supported by volunteer auxiliaries, was kept busy, sadly attending many crashed aircraft as well as bombing raids.
When Alan grew up, he too became a fireman, developing a lengthy and satisfying career working for various brigades around his home patch of Stokesley.
Memorable incidents, he says, include a moor fire in 1960 that was so severe, the army came to assist.
In the 1930s in Chop Gate, the shop was burned out, despite fire engines from Stokesley and Yarm attending: there was no hydrant, and the firemen had to pump water from a beck half a mile away.
Similar problems struck at Marton Hall in Stewart Park, in the 1960s. Alan remembers it as the day when everything went wrong. “We pumped water from the ponds, but it was summer and they were blocked with weeds. So we had to get water from a hydrant that was three quarters of a mile away.”
“We put a ladder up to take a hose to the windows, but there wasn’t enough water pressure – and the ladder caught fire. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. He says. “And because it was a sunny day, a big crowd sat on the grass and laughed at us.”
Luckily, there was no one in the building – but the building was lost, burned down.
He spent time with Cleveland Brigade, where they provide cover for the big chemical, oil and gas works on Teesside. He recalls attending one incident at Wilton where 34 fire engines attended. He says, “The risks of factories are greater, but I’d never go into a big chemical factory without taking the advice of the people who work there, who know what they’re dealing with.”
Equally, he adds, he’d take specialist advice from farmers and vets when dealing with animals at farm fires, which are a common call-out for Stokesley Brigade.
His greatest memory, however, is his regard for Ken Easton, a doctor from Catterick who pioneered the idea of medical attendance to road accident victims.
“In the 1960s, Dr Ken Easton, of Catterick, went to an accident on the A1,” says says Alan. “A lorry driver was trapped for hours, and subsequently died. Ken thought that if he’d had better medical attention, and got out sooner, he could have lived.”
As a result, Ken founded BASICS, the British Association of Immediate Care. Ken inspired colleagues all over the country, and together, they established schemes to call out doctors to bad accidents. Alan says, “I got involved in BASICS.’
They worked at encouraging fire services, doctors, and others, to give better attention to people involved in road accidents. As the years went by, things improved: ambulance services introduced qualified paramedics; fire services invested in cutting and hydraulic equipment that could take the roof off a car in minutes.
“It’s all evolved over the last forty or fifty years,” comments Alan. “Now, if you have a crash, you should get good attention.”
Nowadays, Alan is retired. His father left him a treasure trove of memorabilia from Stokesley, which inspired Alan to write a history of the Stokesley Brigade. He has tracked it from an early man-powered pump, stored at the Church, to the modern, high-tech brigade that it is now.
Alan’s history is published by Stokesley Local History Study Group. To obtain a copy of Alan’s book, contact the group at http://www.stokesleypride.org.uk/html/slhsg.shtml
Read more of Alan’s memories in Dalesman Magazine, November 2018 issue