Ampleforth Abbey Fire Squad

Ampleforth Abbey Fire Squad helmet.

The North Yorkshire abbey  and college had a fire squad for about sixty years, run by volunteer monks. It was formed in the Second World War and its first vehicle was an old estate towing a trailer pump. The squad continued until about 2000 when it was dissolved, mainly on the ground that it was the abbey’s biggest risk because of its amateur nature. It had largely ceased to be necessary because of the enormous increase in smoke detectors, and the efficiency of the local fire service. By 2000, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service could attend the rural location of the abbey within about 20 minutes, whereas the abbey’s fire squad took about 10 minutes.

They never had more than one vehicle at a time, but there was a succession of cast-offs from North Yorkshire FRS, usually through Malton. The last (and best) was a Green Goddess Bedford RLHZ, purchased direct from a job lot of 750 at Rillington airfield, South of Doncaster. They chose the demonstration model as they knew it worked!

The monks of the fire squad attended a number of fires over the years, but only two (1954 and 1962) showed any tendency to get out of hand, but failed to achieve this. From around 1952, they acquired a siren to use as a call and for general information (but not as a local alarm). In later years they had some problems with Civil Defence, since by about 1970 any air-raid type siren meant that an air attack was imminent. Most local people did not seem worried about this, and the Civil Defence and military sites were out of earshot. It was also used for a time to clear the buildings on the occasion of a bomb-warning. All were hoaxes, and nearly all were from the same man. Some contractors sacked him from working on the site and when he saw college concerts advertised he reached for his telephone (or so it appeared). They of course laid a trap, and he fell into it!

Another Ampleforth Abbey Fire Squad helmet in yellow.

The fire squad acquired a job lot from New York’s fire brigade when they were replacing theirs. The helmets were made of plastic and offer little protection compared to modern equivalents. A small fire squad sticker was attached. The monks looked after their equipment and so this helmet was damaged at some point after it finished service with them.

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