INCIPIENT FIRE FIGHTING: United Kingdom. 1938-1945. The capability of modern bomber aircraft to disperse incendiary bombs over a wide area, thereby creating so many fires that they could not be attacked by conventional fire departments in time to prevent a conflagration, was a recognized civil defense problem prior to World War II. Specific procedures were taught to householders and the staffs of commercial establishments to combat individual incendiary bombs. However, if a fire resulted from the incendiary device or from other causes, an attack by civilians while the fire was still in its incipient stage could either suppress the fire or limit its effects until the fire brigade could attend the scene. The Stirrup Pump was the most basic tool for such an attack. A larger appliance was the Two-Men Portable Fire-Pump, which provided increased pumping capacity. Like the Stirrup Pump, this was a manually operated pump - illustrations show two persons operating the pump, which appears to be mounted on a simple pole stand, while a third individual controlled the hose to direct water on the fire. The instructions of the time indicate that the hose used with the pump should be long enough to allow the fire party to enter a building to attack the seat of the fire. The pump used a hose to draft water from a canvas tank, known as a dam, which is filled from any available domestic water source. One option to fill the dam was a bucket chain, operating in the same fashion as bucket brigades have operated since the earliest days of organized fire fighting, with one line taking buckets from a water source to fill the dam and the other line returning the empty buckets to the water source. Even Stirrup Pumps typically used a bucket brigade approach to water supply when available - a wonderful, contemporary, cartoon of the apocryphal use of stirrup pumps to signal an invasion of England shows pump operators each supplied with three or four buckets of water.
Interestingly, from a cultural perspective, the commonly distributed, contemporary cigarette cards showing these firefighting measures featured women in the roles of operators of Stirrup Pumps and Two-Men Portable Fire Pumps. Both men and women are shown in the illustration of the bucket chain, men filling the buckets and operating the pump, with women passing the buckets in the chain.
Sources: Robinson, W. Heath, "The stirrup pump relay system of signalling for giving warning of an invasion," location http://www.a.ghinn.btinternet.co.uk/stirrup.htm, accessed 17 August 2003. Ogden's Cigarettes, "Two-Men Portable Manual Fire-Pump in Action," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 19, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II). Ogden's Cigarettes, "A Chain of Buckets," in Air Raid Precautions, Number 20, cigarette card, published by the author, United Kingdom, no date (believed to be prior to World War II).
Entry 0395 - posted 18 August 2003