Research - Wheeled Escapes and Hose Carts

The earliest municipal fire services did not think it was a priority to rescue people trapped in fires. It wasn’t a realistic possibility in most cases with the available equipment and slow response times. Ladders provided by parish and town councils were only intended to reach burning roofs, etc and were rarely easily available.

By 1836 the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire had been formed in London, with the objective of placing fire escape ladders around London to save lives. These strategically-placed escapes, manned by ‘conductors’, were not taken over by the fire brigade until 1867. In the late 19th Century, ‘street escapes’ standing on busy streets, were a common sight in other large towns.

The design of escape used by the Society had been patented by Abraham Wivell in 1837. A rigid main ladder, approximately 35ft (10m) in length and mounted on a sprung carriage, was fitted with a 20ft (6m) ‘fly’ ladder fixed near to the top. This could be swung out to give a total height of about 45ft (13m). A third section could be added, enabling a reach of about 60ft (18m). Although quite dangerous, these ‘escapes’ saved many lives.

When the telephone and associated overhead cables had been invented, the upright escapes gave way to telescopic designs manoeuvred horizontally on a carriage. When needed, they were swung upright and extended by handles. These ladders were frequently mounted on a hose box or a curricle and formed the usual design for later ‘street escapes’.

By the end of the 19th century, wheeled escapes had been adapted to be pulled by horses. This dramatically improved the time it took to get to a fire. Motorised appliances, first appearing in the early 1900s, were soon fitted with ‘escapes’ and the standard British ‘pump escape’ appliance was born, although it has now disappeared completely.

Escape design hasn’t changed very much. Wooden trussed construction gave way, after World War II, to all steal but the best height stayed the same at around 50ft (15M), despite some 60ft (18m) and 80ft (24m) examples between the wars.

Two of the most prolific manufacturers of wheeled escapes were William Rose (later Rose, Bray and Co.) and John Morris and Sons Ltd, both of Salford, Greater Manchester.

Although a form of small hose reel cart can be traced back to a design by Alfred Baddeley in 1837, it was in the latter half of that century that small hose carts became widely used.

Many different designs have appeared over the years, from the simple handcart to the more elaborate hose reels or curricle escapes carrying a range of equipment and hose.

There were lots of uses for these appliances. Industrial and other private fire services would frequently operate a hand hose cart where a large horse-drawn fire engine wasn’t needed; local authorities would provide them to stand alongside their larger machines or to serve the more distant suburbs where policemen often took them to fires and provided first aid. Small villages often had nothing else.

Typically the hose carts would comprise an equipment box containing standpipes, branchpipes, tools and a few lengths of hose. Alternatively the hose would be wound round the axle on a reel. Scaling ladders were frequently carried along the sides.

The workmanship was to the highest fire engine standards and an amazing number have survived.

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