Special thanks to Gary Chapman in helping with the images.
A fire brigade for the town had been discussed for many years. Mr. John Dingley put forward a scheme in 1865 which came to nothing. However the Launceston Volunteer Fire Brigade were formed in 1872 with John Ching being its first Captain at the ripe old age of 69. He actually resigned from being a town councillor to take up his role as did Mr. G. G. White who eventually replaced him as Captain. The Brigade first used a building in Market street (where the Tower cinema was once situated) for their engine, then rented premises in Exeter street was used. It wasn’t until the construction of the new Town Hall in 1887 that a purpose built engine house was available. This is where the Brigade were to operate from for the next few decades until the advent of the motorised engine in 1936. In 1879 partly connected with the Fire Brigade, a Salvage Corps. was formed with Thomas Pomeroy Trood as Captain with Claude Peter and Charles Parsons his lieutenants.
This only came about after a series of fires where the horse drawn steam engine failed to either get to a fire, the 1926 St. Joseph’s fire where St. Stephens hill was so badly frozen that the horses could not get the engine to the premises and in 1929 at Athill Farm , Egloskerry (above) when there were no horses available so the Brigade could not take the steam engine and all they could do was to prevent the fire from spreading. A short term measure was to pull the steam engine with a tractor hired from Prouts Garage.With the new motorised engine there was a need for larger premises than that offered by the Town Hall building and as such the Brigade found themselves in perpetual movement with engine houses as far a field as St. Stephens during the Second World War.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Brigade first had as its captain Mr. W. D. Philp, who was followed by Mr. Grace, then the Borough Surveyor, then by Mr. W. T. Mills, and then by Mr. J. Burford, another Borough Surveyor. Mr. W. E. Miller took over from him as captain just before the Second World War, during which the old Borough Fire Brigade became part of the Fire Force 19 – Division E – Sub-Division 2 of the National Fire Service in 1941, and Mr. Miller’s rank was changed to that of Company Officer. The move to the Brigade being made part of the National Fire Service was due to non standard equipment and procedures causing problems during the War when fire appliances and crews were mobilised outside their own areas to assist with the bombing raids of the blitz. The Launceston crews saw a lot of action helping Plymouth during the blitz. During this time as well as the Fire Station, the service also rented garages at the Dockey, Race Hill and at St. Stephens (below).
Mr. P. Lampey was the next officer in charge, and with the coming of peacetime conditions, the system was again changed and the local brigade became the Launceston unit of the Cornwall County Fire Service, the title it still holds today. Mr. Lampey was succeded as Station Officer by Mr. W. E. Vague. He illustrates the family tradition which prevails in the unit, for his grandfather, Mr. William Pinch, was a member of the Launceston Brigade in 1883 and over the years many sons have followed their fathers in serving the Launceston Fire service. During the Second World War, the Launceston service played their part in the blitz in Plymouth, and there was a representitive from Launceston at every single blitz on the city.
In 1958 on the site of the old tenement building, Belle Vue (left) in Westgate street a new purpose built fire-station was constructed at a cost of £14,000. Excavation work was undertaken by Messrs, E. Dennis and Son, of Camelford, and the construction work was carried out by Messrs. Hobbs and Knight, Ltd., Of Launceston and Bude. The initial equipment for the new station comprised of a pump escape, a water tender with a built-in 500-gallon per minute pump (also carrying a 400-gallon per minute portable pump), a hose-carrier with some 3000 to 4000 feet of hose towing a trailer pump, and a half-ton four-wheel drive wireless vehicle fitted with a “first-aid” tank of some 50 gallons capacity and a hose-reel. The station was designed and the work supervised by the County Architect, Mr. F. K. Hicklin. The old station by the town hall was subsequently leased to the Launceston Amateur Dramatic Society in 1960 by the town council and ironically has outlived its successor which was demolished in 2010 after the Fire service moved to a new station at Scarne (below). Launceston Community Fire Station covers the largest station ground of any Cornish fire station. Owing to the stations close proximity to the Devon / Cornwall border, it also acts as first attendance to a large part of North and West Devon. Overall, the station covers well over 200 square miles spread over both counties.