Captain Shaw at Home.
[From the London World.]
In the centre of a vast web, skillfully and patiently woven during the last fifteen years, sits the architect thereof—the beneficent spider whose fly is a fire-fly. North, south, east and west of him extends—to the uttermost limits of the region ruled by the Metropolitan Board of Works—a net-work, well planned, carefully executed, and protected against the possibility of breakage by extraordinary precautions. This telegraphic safety-net, by means of which each station of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade is brought into connection with every other station, and the whole Brigade could, if deemed necessary and prudent, be concentrated on any one spot in an incredibly short space of time, is the woik of Captain Eyre Massey Shaw, Chief Officet of the Brigade since Mr. Braidwood lost his life on the memorable occasion when the Thames was literally set on fire. Since then London has been divided into four great districts, three of which are north of the Thames, Iasndon south of the river forming the D district. In the centre of each district is a superintendent in telegraphic connection with every station within its limit, and also with the central office in Watling street, where Captain Shaw sits in his quiet study, far trom the din of firebells, but perfectly cognizant of the condition of’ every Fir man’s post in London—how many men, ! Engines, and horses can be brought together within ‘ a few minutes at any given spot.
The organizer of this machinery, which goes ! rather better than clockwork, is a tail, square-‘ shoulderi d Irishman of some forty-eight years, but; with a figure so well set up that when clad in his short, jaunty tunic, Fireman’s helmet, and huge i jackboots, he looks no more than thirty-five—a li he, active, muscular man, and a skillful wielder of. the tomahawk which hangs in his girdle. His very 1 becoming uniform is the outcome of much care and thought and long practical experience. A Fireman’s helmet, for instance, must fulfill several conditions. It must be strong enough, especially in the “comb,” to resist falling bricks and rafters, and must have a very thick and well-fitting lining. It must also have sufficient peak in front to protect the face without impeding the vision, and behind to shield the neck completely from molten lead. The ears also must be protected without interfering w ith the hearing ; anti there are many minor details w hich combine to render the construction of a Fireman’s helmet a momentous affair. Captain Shaw has at last reached something near perfection, and feels as safe in his helmet when under fire as lie can reasonably expect. Tight in the waist and hips, and loose in the shoulders and sleeves, the tunic is an admirable working dress for men who are perpetually getting in and out of w indows, and through the panels of doors swiftly ripped out with the ken tomahawk. When a house is already full of smoke and the fire is gnawing hungrily at the staircases, there is no time for picking locks or removing doors. Smash goes the tomahawk into a panel, tears it out, and then, head or feet foremost, the Fireman plunges into the unknown beyond. So he is trimly yet strongly clad from head to heel; for the essence of his work is time he must be both swift and s rong. Fire is not the only element against which he must be protected, for he is apt, and indeed certain to be drenched with water when at work. As tons of water are hurled at a flaming building, cascades pour down upon the brave fellows working on the lower floors, drenching them to the skin. Captain Shaw, who on “busy nights” is all over Ixrndon from fire to fire, has, in a private and particular bedroom of his own—a sort of blue chamber, from which even Mrs. Shaw is excluded—a regiment of uniforms to change about with after each particular soaking. All is orderly and methodical. On the floor is a row of jackboots standing erect, shoulder to shoulder, like a welldrilled regiment, and over them hangs raiment without end, all ready to hand at a moment’s notice.
But, like all good soldiers and genuine workers of every kind, Captain Shaw is not very fond of wearing uniform. During the day he is to be found in a blue pea-jacket, well thrown back from the broad white collar, und-r which peeps a black kerchief knotted in sailor fashion. The affection of Captain Shaw for nautical costume is not to be wondered at, when we recollect that he was bred and born within sight of the Cove of Cork. While he was studying for the church at Trinity College, Dublin, he often slipped away for a cruise in hu father’s yacht; and long before he reached legal manhood had, like the O’Donoghue, a boat of his own. The Cork yachtmen of his day were no dandy dilettante sailors. Every man of them could ” bear a hand ” anywhere in the ship, and many were the perilous cruises they weathered out, to the great increase of their manliness and handiness. By degrees Eyre Massey Shaw c ime to think that his vocation was not the church ; that, in short, he was born (or the sea; but the mercantile marine of that day holding out comparatively few attractions as a career, he obtained a commission in the North Coik Rifles; and it then by degrees dawned upon him that his true faculty was that of organization. The municipality of Belfast wanted a military officer to reorganize their police and Eire Brigade, and Captain Shaw took to that work as a duck takes to water. His remarkable success in bringing the Belfast Fire Brigade to a high state of efficiency led to his appointment as Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade at the death of Mr. Braidwood. At that time the Brigade was a complicated body, supported mainly by the fire insurance offices, very weak in numbers and appliances, and without telegraphic communication. Here, then, was work enough for Captain Shaw, who. like other reformers, was not allowed to carry out all his views at once. Bit by bit he “ captured ” concessions from the authorities—no longer the fire insurance companies and the county, but the Metropolitan Board of Works—till the Brigade has been brought, numbers excepted, to the condition required by the mind, we had almost said, Of a martinet. Captain Shaw does not object to that epithet. He maintains vigorously that a state of discipline, under which every man knows his work exactly and performs it punctually, is “perfect freedom.” Each man is held absolutely responsible for his work, and by a carefully arranged system of returns and reports, the position and work of nny given man at ]any given time can be ascertained in an instant. It may be asked, out of what material are made these wonderful men who possess every good quality—dauntless courage, perfect steadiness, unrivalled promptitude and dash, method and precision ?
They have almost all been sailors, have undergone a similar training to their Chief. Captain Shaw thinks he can train any young, active, courageous man into a Fireman in time; but it takes a long time to drill the landsman, while a sailor will learn his work in a couple of months. The mariner has the trick of handiness; he is quick and clever at climbing, and stands with comfort on narrow ledges and corners awful to thc unaccustomed eye. He is also quick at learning the tricks and turns of the various mechanism employed in the Fire Brigade: from the management of ” Manual ” or Hand Engines he advances swiftly to that of ” Steamers.” It is curious to note how quickly the men pick up the working of the simple form of electric telegraph in use at the stations. They are especially fond of their Engines, and keep ihem in a high state of efficiency and polish. Many of them are good workers in me als, and all are taught in Watling street in the woikshops there. There was a reason for adopting this plan. ” The ordinary Engineer belongs to a trades-union, and, even if he wished, would not be allowed to work any hours and all hours, nights and Sundays. He would be of no use with his right as to overtime, and his appeals to the central body. The organization of a Fire Brigade must be strictly military, or rather naval, in system. My men know perfectly well that if they are remiss in answering a call or a ‘ stop ’ ” (a message that an Engine is not required). “or slow in getting out an Engine, the off~u~:e will be visited by fine or reprimand, and wi~l be written against their names in the book you see. Ibis i~ the ervice~book, a strongly bound volume, containing alm-~st a biography of each man since be joined the Brigade, many of eng years service not ha~1ng a single charge recorded against them. Each Engine has also an account opened against it. show ng at once it~ age, prime cost, and cost of mainte~nanc~~. iH is cond’~c~cd on this rnciple of accurate attentIon to and rcgist.a tion of detail, to the end that g~ncralizat1ons may be easily arrived at; for Captain Shaw, with all the activity and gallant bearing which might have well become one of Rupert’s cavaliers, is, like a very different man, the late Mr. Buckle, an ardent follower of the illustrious Quetelet. He is a statist to the backbone. “You can arrive at nothing without facts carefully collected and properly ar ranged,” continues the Chief Officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade; “and facts are easily collected with proper method. Down below, as I pointed out to you, there are just as many hat-pegs as there are men, so that I can see at a glance how many men are out and how many at home. In more serious matters the same rule applies. The want of seeing things at a glance, thc absence of rapid calculation, and the consequent firm grip of the business in hand, has led to the greatest fires in modern times. A Fireman must see at once, not only the building on fire, but the surrounding houses and factories. He must, as we put it technically, ‘know his time,’ and should not, by trying to save one house, sacrifice the next dozen or the next five hundred, as the case may be. It requires a practised eye and some decision of character to conclude on abandoning a range of buildings, bul it is the soundest policy in great conflagrations. If you do not ‘ know your time,’ the fire will be everywhere too quick for you, and drive you from house to house, always maintaining its advantage.”
Few men live more in their profession that Captain Shaw, for his office is his home, and Mrs. Shaw anil his children—the elder of whom is a sublieutenant in the Royal Navy—look upon Watling street as their natural abode, pending the constiuction of a more spacious central office on the other side of London Bridge. In the draw ing-room is an admirable statuette ofCaptain Shaw by Count Gleichen, the centre of a group of agreeable testimonials of regard from distinguished personages. Even this sacred refuge contains photographs and drawings of conflagrations. The dining-room is lurid with pictures of similar character : ships, like the Bombay, burnt to the water’s edge in an incredibly short space of time, and other records of colossal disasters. The study occupied by Captain Shaw alone is a storehouse of maps and plans, recording the introduction of his system into foreign cities, notably Cairo and Alexandria, both organized by himself in person. Overhead, too, is a iibrary of the literature of fires—figures, plans, and reports from the great cities ot Europe and America, for Captain Shaw is en rapport with the Firemen of the whole world, who have profited vastly by his assistance. It is natural for a general to think the men trained under his own eye the best; but the London Chief is not prejudiced against the foreign imitations of his own Brigade. Many of them are excellently drilled, and go aborn their work quickly and methodically. Their onlydefect is a ” want of resource.” So long as all goes according to rule and precedent, they are equal to the occasion; but they want the sailor’s fl xibihty of mind in the presence of sudden and unexpected complications, such as the giving way of floors, the falling of walls, and the rapid spread of conflagration under certain conditions.
Want of regular sleep is one of the difficulties which try the constitution of the Fireman most severely. Men otherwise vigorous and equal to great fatigue succumb tn time to the utter weariness induced by broken rest; but fifteen years ot perpetual work have not found out the soft spot in Eyr~ Massey Shaw, who, unshaken by a couple ot terrible accidents, s~iU exh~Lits unimpaired vitality Pru~ided he can get four or five hours’ sleep out of the twenty-four, be is content to take his re’t by in stailments. ilk work appears interminable. The rnorn~n brinas drill, the recention of many ren~rt~ uIltI~ uL1u, LUC 1~CC~(IOfl UI IT1~fl) rrpuLL~, and the composulon of others, correspondence home and f~r€ign. In the a1v-rn~cn comes the round of inspection-a long drive of forty miles in a mall-phaeton tO various st.~tions, behind relays of splendid horses. At nightfall he dc~ns his uniform, and is ready to head his Brigade wherever his presence may be required, leaving always a trusty deputy at Watling street. He maintains the doc* trine that he is always theoretically present with his men, and so far as time and space will admit, is actually with them. Thoroughly drenched, and perhaps slightly singed as well, at the first fire of the night, he returns to fling off his saturated clothes and don a fresh suit, and then flies off again to take his share in the dangerous work. Not that the danger is apparent to the men themselves, who seem absolutely devoid of fear, although now and then terribly reminded of the perilous nature of their calling. Among the 395 men, including the Chief Officer, who compose the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, occur, in the course of a year, from sixty to ninety cases of injury, some of which are very serious, and a year rarely passes without cases of death. Yet there is no provision for the widows of men killed in the performance of a noble and perilous duty—apiece of economy the more extraordinary as the cost of the whole Brigade is but little over ,£70,000 a year, no very great sum for the protection of the large area ruled by the Metropolitan Board of Works.
Besides his active work in keeping his Brigade up to the highest pitch of efficiency. Captain Shaw has recently written, literally ” between the lights,” a ” Complete Manual of Fire Protection.” His pamphlet on ” Fires in Theatres,” published a lew months since, will doubtless he read with renewed interest just now, as will his admirable tables of fires classified according to their causes and the uses of the buildings in which they have taken place.
Rigid as a disciplinarian, the Chief Officer has vet won the hearts of his men by the confidence he reposes in them when thoroughly drilled. ” I look to each man to do his own work of his own accord, and to do it properly,” continues Captain Shaw. But here our colloquy is cut short by a slight “ting” of the bell—no noisy alarm, but an ordinary office-bell—and a message through the speaking tube. A few words are exchanged without hurry or excitement, and then the tunic is buttoned severely to the throat, the tomahawk girt on, and then the helmet donned. The Chief Officer is on active service.