Montague William Pett



Montague William Pett (b. September 1880, Kent, England–d. 10 November 1940, Exeter, England)1 was the first professional firefighter from England sent to Singapore to organise and head the Singapore Fire Brigade in 1905. He was instrumental in reorganising the Singapore Fire Brigade and establishing the Central Fire Station at Hill Street – Singapore’s oldest surviving fire station.2 Pett resigned from his post in 1912 and went on to command the Shanghai Municipal Fire Brigade.3

Early life
Pett’s grandfather was one of the founders of the Kent Volunteer Fire Association, which served the area before a proper firefighting force was set up. Pett was born in the town of Sevenoaks in Kent,England, where his father William was in charge of the Sevenoaks Fire Brigade. In 1887, Pett moved with his parents to Exeter, and in the following year, William was appointed superintendent of the Exeter Fire Brigade. Pett’s younger brother, Algernon, was the first to introduce a fire engine to South Africa.4


Pett received his education at Hele’s College and the Albert Memorial College in Exeter. Upon graduation, Pett worked in an electrical engineering firm and was subsequently appointed a member of the Exeter Fire Brigade. Before long, Pett had assumed the position of second engineer at the fire brigade and placed in charge of the fire alarm and telephone communication systems. He was later promoted to second officer.5

Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War in South Africa in 1899, Pett volunteered to serve with the Imperial Yeomanry Hospitals. Upon his return to England, Pett joined renowned fire engineers Merryweather and Sons to gain more technical knowledge and experience in working with fire engines.6

Major accomplishments
Singapore Fire Brigade
Pett was appointed superintendent of the Singapore Fire Brigade and assumed duty on 1 January 1905.7 As the first professional firefighter commanding the brigade, Pett initiated the building of the Central Fire Station, streamlined operations and brought more modern firefighting equipment to Singapore.8

When Pett first arrived, there were a few small fire sheds and stations that were inadequate in terms of equipment, space and capabilities. One of the immediate changes that Pett introduced was to transfer the telephone call system from the Central Police Station to the Telephone Exchange so that the public could call the fire station directly in the event of a fire. Pett advocated the building of the Central Fire Station and oversaw its planning and construction. The Central Fire Station was completed in 1909 at a cost $64,000. As the main headquarters of the fire brigade, the new station had an engine house, living quarters for the firemen and their families, a repair shop, a carpenter shop, a paint room, a training yard and a lookout tower.9

During his tenure as superintendent of the Singapore Fire Brigade, Pett also replaced the outdated horse-drawn fire engines with modern, motorised fire engines from England. The new Merryweather fire engines had greater power and capabilities, encapsulating a fire pump, fire brigade tender, hose reel and escape in one machine. These reforms revolutionised the fire brigade, making it a more effective force.10

In addition, Pett pushed for better working conditions for firemen in order to raise morale. He increased their pay, made changes to their uniforms as well as implemented a three-tier categorisation – first, second or third class – for the firemen. Pett also instituted fire safety measures for public buildings.11 He served a total of seven-and-a-half years as superintendent until his resignation from the fire brigade on 28 November 1912. Under his leadership, Singapore’s firefighting force was professionalised and made more efficient and response-ready.12

Pett returned to England on home leave for a period of six months before taking up his new responsibility in Shanghai in December 1912.13

Shanghai Fire Brigade
Pett was the chief officer of the Shanghai Municipal Fire Brigade from 1912 to 1926.14 There he introduced street fire alarms and wireless telephones to prevent delayed responses by the fire brigade.15


Death
Pett died at his home in Exeter on 10 November 1940 after battling a long illness. He left behind a daughter, Mrs R. Richards.16 Pett’s wife had passed away in Shanghai in 1934.17

Family

Father: William Pett (d. 15 July 1934)
Brother: Algernon Pett18
Wife: Edie Jennings (m. 11 July 1908)19
Daughter: Mrs R. Richards20



Author

Cherylyn Tok



References
1. Mr. M. W. Pett. (1922, June 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8; Former local fire chief. (1940, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; M. E. Brine. (2010, June 11). Devon’s 2nd Boer War roll of honour 1899–1902. Retrieved 2016, June 11 from Devon Heritage website: http://www.devonheritage.org/Nonplace/DevonReg/BoerWarRollofHonourPtoR.htm
2. Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 19, 22. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON)
3. Fire chief’s departure. (1912, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON)
4. Mr Montagu Pett. (1902, December 22). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5; Mr. M. W. Pett. (1922, June 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Exeter Memories. (2009, March 23). William Pett – Superintendent of Exeter’s Fire Brigade. Retrieved 2016, June 11 from Exeter Memories website: http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_people/pett.php
5. Mr Montagu Pett. (1902, December 22). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Mr Montagu Pett. (1902, December 22). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 5; Mr. M. W. Pett. (1922, June 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Exeter Memories. (2009, March 23). William Pett – Superintendent of Exeter’s Fire Brigade. Retrieved 2016, June 11 from Exeter Memories website: http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_people/pett.php
7. Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON); Mr. M. W. Pett. (1922, June 3). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Fire chief’s departure. (1912, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 21, 22, 24. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON); Saud Aqel Alattas & Subhas, N. (Eds.). (2010). Building a legacy: Central fire station crosses the century mark, 1909–2009. Singapore: Singapore Civil Defence Force, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 363.378095957 BUI); New fire station: Central building practically completed. (1909, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Saud Aqel Alattas & Subhas, N. (Eds.). (2010). Building a legacy: Central fire station crosses the century mark, 1909–2009. Singapore: Singapore Civil Defence Force, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING 363.378095957 BUI); New fire station: Central building practically completed. (1909, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 24–25. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON)
12. Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON); Fire chief’s departure. (1912, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Fire chief’s departure. (1912, May 27). The Straits Times, p. 9; Untitled. (1912, December 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 382. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Shanghai fire brigade. (1920, April 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12; Untitled. (1926, December 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore fire service. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON); New fire station: Central building practically completed. (1909, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Former local fire chief. (1940, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Mainly about people. (1934, March 29). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Exeter Memories. (2009, March 23). William Pett – Superintendent of Exeter’s Fire Brigade. Retrieved 2016, June 11 from Exeter Memories website: http://www.exetermemories.co.uk/em/_people/pett.php
19. Wedding at Exeter. (1908, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Former local fire chief. (1940, December 30). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Attempt to bribe fire supt. Pett. (1905, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Fire brigade case. (1909, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The fire king. (1906, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Pett, Montague William, 1880-1940
Law and government>>Security>>Civil defence
Personalities
Personalities>>Biographies
Fire fighters--Singapore--Biography