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A History of the Water Tender

If you are looking to know more about the end use of our hose fittings and BSP Adaptors then you need look no further than modern water tenders or what they are more commonly known as fire engines. Here we discuss the water tender and how it has evolved over the years.


The great fire of London started at the bakery of Thomas Farriner on Pudding Lane, shortly after midnight on Sunday, 2nd of September. A violent east wind encouraged the flames which raged during the whole of Monday and part of Tuesday. On Wednesday the fire began to die down and on Thursday it was extinguished… The use of the major firefighting technique of the time, was the creation of firebreaks by means of demolition, this action was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth. The final tally of people who died in the fire is not known, however, it consumed thirteen thousand and two hundred houses, eighty seven parish churches and St Paul’s Cathedral and most of the buildings of the City authorities. London was the largest city in Britain estimated at the time to house half a million inhabitants. John Evelyn, (a diarist), described London as “wooden, northern, and inartificial congestion of Houses” and expressed alarm about the fire hazard the wood and the congestion caused. London did not have a fire fighting brigade in 1666. Each London parish kept buckets, axes, fire hooks and ladders to fight fires. Local people were supposed to work together to put out fires, the equipment was often stored in churches.


After the fire, Londoners had to pay for their homes to be rebuilt, this was such a problem that fire insurance companies started up after the fire, and these companies had their own fire brigades. During the 1700’s fire-fighting was carried out by insurance companies, if a building was on fire several fire brigades from different companies often attended. If a building was on fire several fire brigades from different companies often attended, in theory then if the house wasn’t insured by the attendees it could be left to be burned down. This seldom happened in practice, bystanders were often enlisted to help and were rewarded with beer.


In approximately 1832 ten of the insurance companies combined their brigades to run a more effective firefighting establishment. It became the London Fire Engine Establishment or (LFEE) in 1833. After the disastrous Tooley street Fire of 1833 in which the Chief Officer James Braidwood died, the LFEE petitioned the Government to start a publicly funded fire service. This led to the creation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1866, which were later re-named the London Fire Brigade in 1904


Modern water tenders, are now described by firefighters and the general public as Fire Engines/Fire Appliances. “Engines” for the extinguishing of fire were built long before their first “appliance” rolled off the production line. In the States an engine is a pump or a pumper, but in the UK a fire engine is a generic term for any emergency vehicle operated by the fire service. For many years in Britain, the fire service used standard terminology and abbreviations to identify their appliances. For example, a water tender ladder with rescue equipment can be a rescue water tender ladder, (R/WrL), a water tender ladder emergency rescue (WrL/R) and so on.


At the beginning of the Second World War, an assortment of cars, taxis and light commercials was pressed into service with the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) to tow the twenty thousand trailer pumps which it is estimated would be needed to keep the fire service adequately equipped for war. Hire prices and repair bills swallowed up any savings expected from not buying specification vehicles in the first place. During 1940 on an air raid in Manchester so many of the city’s make-shift towing vehicles were out of action or under repair that the trailer pumps had to literally be pushed to fires by their crews. Against this background, in 1941 the Government approved the purchase of 2,000 two-ton vans for use as towing vehicles, they had internal seating for the crew and space for the hose and small gear. They were widely known as auxiliary towing vehicles, or ATV’s but were not officially recognised as such until after the war. Production began in 1941 and continued until 1943. In total approximately 5,570 towing vehicles were built, but unfortunately few would have been operational in time for the large scale bombing of London and other major cities during the Blitz of 1940/41. On August 18th 1941, all the local authority fire brigades of England, Scotland and Wales were nationalised, under the National Fire Service, (NFS), the AFS and its towing vehicles were absorbed into this new national body.

Post war, the towing vehicle was not designed for attending peace-time incidents. The Green Goddess fire engine, (modern water tender), or self-propelled emergency pump, to give it its correct name, was introduced in the 1950’s to replace the wartime pumps then available to the Auxiliary Fire Service.


Since the 1950’s the technology of road vehicles and the science behind fire-fighting has moved on considerably. The Government’s new Dimension initiative is a response to the terrorist’s attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. Today’s fire service is better equipped to deal with fire and rescue, major chemical, biological, radiologic, and nuclear, the modern water tender has come a long way since the Great Fire of London,

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