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A brief history
by
Bill Broadhurst and Harry Welsh

Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Northern Ireland stands on the North shore of Belfast Lough and is home to the 12th century Carrickfergus Castle built around 1180 by John de Courcy. The 2001 Census classified Carrickfergus as a large town recording a population of 27,201 people. It has good road and rail links with the ports of Larne 12 miles to the East, and Belfast 12 miles to the West. The town was formerly an important centre for the textile trade and is now a centre for leisure sailing supporting a large modern marina.

Prior to Carrickfergus establishing its own fire service it had a great dependency on Belfast Fire Brigade who could in the event of a large outbreak of fire reach the town in under one hour . In 1903 however following an article in the local newspaper, moves were made to provide a more efficient service than those of the firefighting apparatus at present available in the town.

A Newspaper report 1903

A section from an article in the Carrickfergus Advertiser 1903.


Carrickfergus Fire Brigade 1903
 outside their Fire Engine House

In 1903 Colonel James Craig provided the means to purchase a horse pulled hand operated Merryweather fire engine. The YMCA building which was also a gift to the town by James Craig had attached to it the fire engine house where the apparatus was stored.


The new Steam Fire Engine 1907
     in front of YMCA Building..A Fire Drill ..Superintendent Forsythe

Under the command of Superintendent A. Forsythe, Carrickfergus suffered several large fires in 1907. The destruction of the Union Halls, and also the Post Office in High street highlited the poor water supply, coupled with the inadequacy of the hand operated fire engine.

Once again to meet the demands put upon them by an outcry for better protection in the town the Council in 1908 were supplied with a new Merryweather Steam fire engine, paid for entirely by Colonel Craig and the Hon. Mrs Skeffington-Craig. The new steam fire engine is seen on the above left photo outside the YMCA, with Colonel Craig standing extreme left.

The new steam engine was a great attraction throughout the town and crowds would gather such as the above centre photograph to watch the fire crew practice their fire drills.


Carrickfergus had moved to the steam age in 1908. However motor fire engines were being developed and the Belfast fire brigade had completely converted to a motorised fleet in 1911. These new motorised fire engines could carry a supply of water, and with their greater capacity pumps were now able to drive from Belfast to Carrick in almost the same time as it took to raise the alarm, fetch and harness the horses, round up the crew, light the boiler and proceed to an incident where water might be scarce.

And as Carrickfergus on average had only one or two fires a year in the 1920's it became more efficient to call the Belfast Fire Brigade and pay the Belfast Council for their attendance.

Carrickfergus itself did not have a motorised brigade until the formation of the National Fire Service in 1942.


An Austin Tender and Trailer Pump

Belfast was bombed heavily on April 15th 1941 and the fire services were totally overwhelmed. On 1st July 1942 the fire services throughout Northern Ireland were Nationalised. Carrick became part of D Division and in 1942 had a strength of 14 men. By 1943 it had a strength of 27 men and 3 women. They were equipped with an Austin tender with a Harland trailer pump (Such as the one seen in the above photo) and were designated the call sign D4Y.


After the second world was the National Fire Service was stood down in 1948 and transferred to four separate brigades. Carrickfergus was incorporated into the Northern Fire Authority with its headquaters in Ballymena.

However in 1950 the Northern, Western and Southern fire authorities amalgamated into the Northern Ireland Fire Authority with its headquaters in Lisburn. As a result of the war and the NFS the Carrickfergus fire station was just a corrugated iron construction in Shaftesbury Park with Section Leader Wm. Holmes in charge and a compliment of 12 men.


At 2.30am on 26th June 1954 The Coastguard eight and a half miles away in Orlock on the County Down side of Belfast Lough oberved a fire in Whitehead and raised the alarm. Carrickfergus fire brigade was quickly turned out but found the cafe and milk bar at Whitehead swimming pond well alight.


A new fire station built at a cost of 16,000 was officially opened in Lancasterian Street in 1956 by the Rt. Hon Terence O'Neill Minister for Home Affairs and the Mayor of Carrickfergus Alderman T.J Patterson. There was now a compliment of 18 crew members and their new training officer was Coy. O Norman Kelly. At a dinner given in the station the mayor recalled how Section Leader Holmes' Grandfather had used the handcart and hose, the first fire fighting apparatus before the arrival of the horse pulled hand pump. Also present at the dinner were Bob McMillan the engineer for the steam fire engine and Mr Marshall one of the steamer firemen.


The Northern Ireland Fire Authority were given the responsibility of training the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) throughout Northern Ireland and the Carrickfergus Unit hosted "Widespread" a massive exercise in 1954. The exercise lasted four hours with AFS personnel coming from as far afield as Londonderry, Enniskillen and Omagh.


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In April 1961 firemen had to deal with a serious fire on board the MV Alignity in Carrickfergus harbour after an explosion in its engine room. The vessel was at the time carrying 800tons of petrol, and alongside her was the MV Andorita which was carrying 20tons of gelignite.


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The above photograph left shows the crew in 1978 with Training Officer K. Harper and Sub.O Watson.

The station now was responding to almost 300 calls per year.


COURTAULDS FACTORY..NORTH STREET

While Northern Ireland was to suffer a long and deadly terror campaign for thirty years. The town of Carrickfergus itself was not spared. With many factories, buisness premises and shops attacked and firebombed.

Carrickfergus fire brigade on many occasions was placed on the frontline in the defence of its community, and never found to be wanting. Often, and on other occasions it was sent to the assistance of Glengormley, Larne, Ballyclare and Belfast during firebomb attacks.

Above left the Courtaulds factory firebombed in which 1 man was killed and 15 people injured, and right the devastation in North Street after a 150.lb bomb exploded injuring 12 people.


Aftermath of fatal coach crash 1992

In June 1992, the Carrick brigade had to deal with an extremely difficult road traffic accident. A coach had crashed on a road near the town killing 5 people and injuring 43 others, many with serious injuries.


On Friday 4th August 2006 on the 50th anniversary of the present fire station in Lancasterian Street, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service received the Freedom of the Borough of Carrickfergus in recognition of the sterling service provided by the Borough's firefighters.

A parade took place from Carrickfergus fire station to the Town Hall where the Chief Fire Officer Colin Lammey thanked the Borough Council for the award of their highest honour.

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