Steam Fire Engine

From Devon’s vibrant port towns to the rugged expanses of Dartmoor, the spectre of fire haunted Britain throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Preceding this era, firefighting strategies leaned heavily on the physical strength and buckets wielded by firefighters, a method both laborious and often ineffective. However, the Victorian era unfolded as a pivotal period in firefighting evolution, fueled by the innovative adoption of steam power.

Established in 1760, Shand Mason & Co. gained prominence through their groundbreaking steam fire engines, one of which is currently on display here. These engines, adorned with polished brass and intricate woodwork, became symbols of progress and civic pride.

Operating a steam fire engine required synchronised teamwork. A dedicated crew would load the firebox with coal, generating steam to power pistons that operated a potent pump. This pump could extract water from hydrants or open sources like rivers, propelling it through high-pressure hoses to create a forceful stream directed at the flames.

These machines significantly increased water pressure, reduced response times, and ultimately saved numerous lives. The steam powered fire engines serve as tributes to the resourcefulness and commitment of those who battled flames during a pivotal era in British history.

The 20th century ushered in new advancements as the internal-combustion-engine, offering greater compactness and maneuverability, gradually replaced its steam-powered predecessor. Petrol powered fire engines began to emerge around 1904, signaling a shift towards what would later become the standard fire engine of the future.