GIRLS’ FIRE BRIGADE.
A correspondent of the New York Sun says that girls’ schools in England can give points to American schools in at least one department of practical education. They have the finest women’s Are brigades in the world. Westfield college, at Hampstead, was the first English college for women to make fire practice a prominent feature of school training; and in the old days the practice was of a very thorough sort. Professional firemen were hired to inspect and train the brigades; and the girls learned all the tricks of the profession from tying fireman’s chair knots in ropes, and lowering themselves from top windows, to carrying insensible persons out of burning buildings. The training is not quite so severe now, and chute practice is considered much more important than rope practice. The chutes, which are long canvas tubes, with iron rimmed mouths, lie coiled in the central hallways of the school buildings. At an alarm of fire, certain members of the brigade uncoil the chute from a convenient window or balcony, where iron supports have been placed to hold the open mouth of the tube. Other brigade officers run down to the lawn and hold the lower end of the chute, it is their duty to see that each girl who shoots the chutes is spilled safely on the ground, before the signal is given for another to start. In some of the colleges, sliding the chute head foremost is advocated; not, at Westfield where the girls go down right side up with care.
At the smaller schools, the object of tire practice is chiefly to train the girls to escape as quickly as possible from the buildings in case of tire. At St. Katherine’s, 8t. Andrews, where many of the pupils are small children, the chutes are used, and the strongest members of the fire brigade are posted at the top and bottom of the chutes, to put the little girls into the tubes,and catch them at the end of the slide. Alarms are given at unexpected times; and the girls are trained to throw thick woolen coverings about their bodies and heads, and assembly quickly at given points. There, the brigade officers take command of them, and direct their escape—each officer being responsible for a limited number of pupils.
The larger colleges require not only escape practice but also vigorous fire-fighting. In cases of fires confined to one or two rooms, the girls’ brigades have often done effectual work. Methods are approximately the same in all the colleges, though brigade organization may differ slightly When a fire is really or hypothetically discovered, the head captain of the fire brigade is informed at once. She sounds a general alarm and sends the brgade messengers through all the halls, sounding rattle alarms, knocking on the doors, lighting the gas in case of darkness shutting windows doors, and transoms to avoid draughts which would feed the fire, and culling out the number of the room which is on fire. Each girl when she hears the alarm knows exactly what is expected of her; and not knowing whether the alarm is for genuine fire or practice, she presents herself as quickly as possibleat theappointed place. Thepump-and-bucket corps form in double line between the seat of the fire and the nearest water supply. At Bedford, last year, the bucket corps made a record of one and one half minutes from the time of alarm. That is, the lines were at the scene of the fire and in working order in that time, while within three minutes the pumps were at work.
If the fire proves serious, the captain sends a detachment of girls to the rooms above those which are on fire, where they tear up the carpets, remove all draperies, and flood the floors. Thestrongest girls of the school belong to the outdoor hose corps, and their duty is to get out the large hose, attach it to the hydrants and turn on streams of water. Naturally, all college members do not belongto the fire brigades. Girton has the largest brigade—eighty girls being enrolled in it. On the sounding of a fire alarm, all girls not members of the fire brigade are obliged to leave the buildings, and, as quickly as possible, go to one of the lodges and register their names. In this way all the students are accounted for.
Where the women’s college buildings are within reach of professional fire departments, an alarm is, of course, turned in in case of any serious fire. The women’s halls at Oxford are so well protected by the professional department that the fire drill in the school is of the simplest sort; but Girton, Newnham, Cheltenham Holloway,and other schools are dependent, for quick work almost altogether upon their own brigades and they take pride in their proficiency. The Holloway girls made, perhaps, the pluckiest fight, against fire recorded among’ the girls, brigades and conquered a very threatening fire in a fashion to win admiration from any regular fire department.