"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

February 25, 2008

ORIGIN OF STOP MESSAGE


In the 19th Century novel ``Fighting the Flames,'' author R.M. Ballantyne provided a detailed description of the workings of the London Fire Engine Establishment - predecessor of today's London Fire Brigade. In one passage, he explained the origin of the ``stop message,'' which is broadcast today by radio to signal a fire is under control.

  • When a fire occurred in any part of London at the time of which we write, the fire-station nearest to it at once sent out its engines and men, and telegraphed to the then head or centre station at Watling Street. London was divided into four districts, each district containing several fire stations, and being presided over by a foreman.
  • From Watling Street the news was telegraphed to the foremen's stations, whence it was transmitted to the stations of their respective districts.
  • While the engines were going to the fire at full speed, single men were setting out from every point of the compass to walk to it.
  • In order, however, to prevent this unnecessary assembling of men when the fire was found to be trifling ... the fireman in charge of the engine that arrived first, at once sent a man back to the station with a `stop,` that is, with an order to telegraph to the central station ... and that all hands who have started from the distant stations may be `stopped.'
  • Of course the man from each station had set out before that time, and the `stop' was too late for him, but it was his duty to call at the various fire stations he happened to pass on the way, where he soon found out whether he was to `go on` or to `go back.`