BOER VILLAGE FIRE BRIGADES.
D. G. Ricard, in Fire and Water,of London, gives the following account of Boer village fire brigades:
“Johannesburg has always, considering the mixed nature of its population and the devious ways in which many of them eked out a living, been singularly free from fires; but the same cannot be said of the smaller villages which are scattered all over the Transvaal and Orange River colony. In these dorps the primitive hand lamp, and still more primitive home-made candle, are in daily use; the Boer is notoriously careless in his habits, and the result is that a fire is a common occurrence.
“Most of the villages have a fire brigade of their own. These brigades will, as a rule, consist of eight or ten of the villagers; but, as they naturally lie scattered over the village, it often happens that a house will be gutted before help arrives. In some villages the fire apparatus will consist simply of a hose or a few buckets. Every village in the two former Republics has streams of water, locally called spruits, running down its streets, and water for the buckets can be obtained from these sources.
“In the little village of Vrede, in the Orange River Colony, the brigade consisted of ten of the villagers, under the captaincy of the gaoler. The hand engine was kept in a shed attached to the gaol, and the gaoler kept the key of this shed. The gaoler was a corpulent man with an overweening predilection for Hop brandy, and on two occasions could not be awakened when required. Now the gaoler in a Boer village is a man of importance, and is not to be lightly handled, and none of the members of the brigade had sufficient hardihood to break into the shed, so they left their captain to his slumbers and returned to watch the house burn down. Later on when the occupier, a Polish Jew storekeeper, complained about this state of affairs, the gaoler promptly arrested him for creating a disturbance, and the Janddrost (magistrate) gravely fined him ten shillings.
“On one occasion, when a fire broke out in this village, the quarterly nnachtmaal (prayer meeting) was being held in Harrismith, and most of the brigade were awayattending it. But the gaoler was a resourceful man. He hauled a dozen of their native prisoners out of their cells, and marched them to the scene of the conflagration, and set them to work to fight the flames. When the fire had been got under, and he started to collect his charges, he found that five of them were missing,and an unsympathetic government promptly relieved him of his berth in consequence.
“The villagers regarded this as very drastic treatment and got up a petition, headed by the hotel-keepers asking the government to reconsider their decision.but the powers that be were inexorable, and a new gaoler arrived and took the reins of office. This man was more up-to-date than his predecessor, and he set about organizing the brigade by having a series of drills. When the niemhers learned of thts their indignation knew no bounds, and they all promptly resigned. Then the new gaoler arose in his might. There is an old law In the Orange River colony that every hotel and drinking plaee is to be closed at nine at night.
The law is never observed nowadays; in fact, few people knew of its existence. But the gaoler was one of them. Every night as the clock struck nine he made for the hotel and saw it locked up for the night, and, though the villagers murmured deeply amongst themselves, they had no redress. Eventually, however, at the unanimous request of the inhabitants, a compromise was arranged; the brigade reorganized itself and drilled once a week ; the hotel kept its doors open until the last light in the village; was extinguished and peace once more reigned supreme.”