75 years in 
the line of fire

Green Watch at Kirkcaldy fire station
Green Watch at Kirkcaldy fire station

KIRKCALDY fire station will celebrate its 75th anniversary this weekend with a day of firefighting demonstrations, exhibitions of old photos, activities and computer games.

And everyone is invited along to join the fun on Saturday from 12.00-4,00 p.m. – while learning a very important, and possibly lifesaving, lesson at the same time.

A blaze at a Kirkcaldy scrap yard in 2002

A blaze at a Kirkcaldy scrap yard in 2002

When the service first moved into the purpose built premises on Dunnikier Road on April 20, 1938, the main role was putting out fires.

Today the majority of the firefighters’ time is spent on fire prevention; educating the public on the dangers fire can bring and ensuring the safety of the men on the front line (there are currently no female firefighters at the Kirkcaldy station, although there have been in the past).

The prevention message seems to be working, as last year’s statistics show that the number of incidents in every category, including dwelling fires, rubbish fires, wheelie bin fires, malicious calls, bonfires and road traffic collisions were down on the previous 12 months figures.

The only one which was up was the number of false alarm calls, and that was only because of a rise in testing smoke alarms at the newly built wing of Victoria 

Firefighters on parade circa 1950

Firefighters on parade circa 1950

From an original five full-time and 10 retained staff there are now 15 full-time firefighters split over four shifts or “watches” called Red, Blue, White and Green. On each watch there are 11 firemen, with a manager in charge of each. They work shift patterns of two days and two nights followed by four days 

In addition there is a Community Safety department whose job is to educate the public; a driver training section which covers the whole of Fife and an occupational health department which is responsible for assessment and help with stress and counselling.

As of April 1, all stations in Fife are part of the Scottish Fire Service and fall under the East hub, and, as with all stations, the area it covers is flexible according to need under the Dynamic Mobilising system, although it is rare for any of the station’s two appliances and one mobile platform to be called outwith Fife.

The station was refurbished in 1989 and now houses offices at one end of the top floor, with a recreation room, kitchen, lecture room and IT facilities. On the middle floor there are three dormitories and occupational health rooms, and on the ground floor the fire appliances and more office accommodation, with gym equipment for staff to use and washing and drying facilties for their kit.

A typical day will begin at 8.00 a.m. with a parade to ensure there are sufficient staff to cover, then they check the appliances to ensure everything is in working order, including breathing apparatus and any maintenance work is carried out. They then train for 2½ hours on various different subjects and scenarios.

In the afternoon they take part in community fire safety initiatives including things like visiting schools and nursing homes, doing fire safety checks and fitting smoke alarms, and visiting commercial premises and advising them on possible hazards or risks.

Kirkcaldy fire station was officially opened by Sir Alistair Spencer Nairn in April 1938, after moving from the previous firehouse in Cowan Street.

In 1941 it became the ‘C’ Division headquarters of the National Fire Service Eastern force, made up of Fife, Dundee, Perth and Kinross, which had its headquarters in Dundee. In 1948 it became Fife Fire Brigade headquarters until it moved to Thornton in 1972.

Today it still has the equipment to act as a backup command centre for Thornton, were anything to prevent it from doing so.

The station cost £15,235 15s 11d to build, with the latest methods of fire prevention incorporated in its design and structure.

A number of the auxilliary staff for the service were employees at the Nairn’s linoleum works, and this was a tradition which remained until the part-time service in Kirkcaldy was disbanded in 1976, therefore it was fitting that a member of the Nairn family was asked to open the new building.

At the opening of the station, the Fife Free Press reported: “a comprehensive display of firefighting techniques by the local Brigade under Firemaster Gilchrist,” including a fireman jumping from a two-storey window and being caught in a sheet by his colleagues, and a hut set on fire, with a fireman in an asbestos suit walking through the flames and collecting a colleague who he wrapped in an asbestos sheet.

The first major blaze that the new station dealt with happened just days before the official opening.

It happened late on the night of Monday, April 11, 1938 when a fire broke out at St Mary’s Malt Barns in the town’s East Bridge 

The fire raged for 11 hours and cause between £20-25,000 of damage. Two appliances fought the blaze using six hose reel jets, with water taken from the inner basin of Kirkcaldy harbour. It was reported that the water level in the basin dropped six inches as the fire was 

Gary Dall is station manager at Kirkcaldy and has worked with the fire service for 25 years.

He says that during that time the emphasis has moved more and more towards prevention and education, with new technology now vital at every stage of the process, from preparing the station’s annual plans to recording and monitoring every incident and the progress made.

“When I first started out it was all about fighting fires, now we are doing more and more community work to educate the public on the dangers, and there is a dedicated department for that which organises all the visits to schools and other groups and organisations in the 

“We are currently working with Kirkcaldy YMCA the police and NHS Fife to produce a safety DVD and we hope to be able to launch that at a schools’ safety initiative we are taking part in in June.

“We are starting to educate children at a very early age, and we go along to visit nursery schools to get them used to seeing us and let them know what we do.

“And, with a high volume of domestic fires starting in the kitchen, we are doing more work with people taking on their own homes for the first time, with the elderly and with others who have been identified as being more at risk.

“After the recent fire in Benarty Street we went around knocking on doors in the street and talking to people about it, highlighting the dangers and offering free checks and smoke alarms, and we would do that in other similar incidents.

“We also speak to local schools before the summer holidays and before Bonfire Night which can be times when the number of incidents rise.”