The Firewomen of Girton College.
The organization, which has for its object the protection from fire of the college buildings at Girton, Cambridge, is, by reason of its constitution, of an interesting character. It is one of the few fire brigades for membership of which ladies only are eligible. True, the duties of the members, both in respect of drills and real work, cannot exactly be compared with those our firemen are called upon to perform-the appliances are necessarily of a lighter and smaller description, and the work is thus less fatiguing-but drills are conducted with regularity and precision, and the members practice periodically the tasks set out by the rules of the corps. To the Girton College Brigade belongs the honor of first instituting a ladies fire brigade, an example which has been followed by two or three similar institutions, including Newnham and Holloway Colleges.
The idea of utilizing the services of the students for the purposes of a fire brigade was suggested as far back as the latter end of 1879, when three corps were formed, each having a captain and sub-captain, acting under one chief officer. The appliances, at that time, were limited to three small hand-pumps, the property of the college, which had lain idle for some time, and were well adapted to serve the purposes of the enthusiastic “ firemen.”
“The brigade having been formed, and the excitement inseparable from the first few drills moderated, it was proposed that, before drawing up a regular code of drills, a deputation should wait upon Captain Shaw, to solicit his kind aid and advice. A visit was therefore paid to the metropolitan fire chief during the Christmas vacation, and the results were satisfactory. Captain Shaw welcomed his fair visitors, and he, with his men, described and exhibited the drills most readily adapted to the circumstances of collegiate life, and initiated them into the mysteries of making rope knots and other means of facilitating escape from the upper part of a burning building. On the return of the deputation, canvas fire buckets and ropes were, at the recommendation of Cap. tain Shaw, added to the appliances, and a code of rules compiled.
The Girton College Fire Brigade of to-day is far more efficient than in the early days described. There are nowresident in the college 118 students and teachers, besides thirty servants. From the former arc selected eighty-one young ladies to form the three corps, and six officers, which, with the chief officer, comprise the brigade. The rules provide that there shall not be less than four practices each term, and not more than one per week. In addition it is made imperative that there shall be two alarm practices during every tym. The work at a regular drill generally consists in passing buckets to and fro from the engines to an imaginary fire, climbing ladders, lowering members from the windows by means of ropes, and rescuing a person supposed to have been rendered unconscious by the effects of the fire. The alarm practices serve to show the rapidity with which members can take up their position in line at a certain spot announced to them by the chief officer, who gives the call by means of a rattle. This primitive method of sounding an alarm, although it would scarcely suit a public organization, serves its purpose very well within the college walls. The date and hour of the alarm is known beforehand only to the mistress and chief officer.
The number of hand pumps has been, since the foundation of the brigade, increased to ten, but the necessity for their use has been partially lessened by the installation of hydrants in various parts of the building. These connect with tanks in the tower supplied with water forced up by means of a hot-air engine from wells on the premises. The greatest risk to be feared in the case of a fire is the possibility of the supply from the wells becoming exhausted. As a precaution a large pond has been constructed in the grounds, of sufficient size for the Cambridge Fire Brigade to work from, should it be necessary to obtain the men’s services. The danger to life, in the event of an outbreak, except under other than ordinary circumstances, would not be great, as the building consists of three stories only, and has ample means of outlet in the form of lifts and staircases.
The services of the College Kire Brigade have fortunately never been required to extinguish any serious con flagration, but the discipline to which the members subject themselves would, even though their exertions might not be availing to extinguish the flames, without doubt render them less liable to panic than they would otherwise be, were a fire of any dimensions to occur. For this reason, if for no other, the example of Girton College ought to be more widely followed by institutions of a like character where the occupants are wholly or chiefly ladies. Fire imil laler (Fug.).