Central Fire Station
The Central Fire Station, also known as the Hill Street Fire Station, is Singapore’s oldest surviving fire station. Completed in 1909, the distinctive red-and-white brick building was gazetted as a national monument by the Preservation of Monuments Board on 18 December 1998. Still an active station, it also houses the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery, which showcases the firefighting history of Singapore. The gallery was opened to the public in 2001.
Singapore did not have a proper fire brigade up till the late 1800s; the early brigades consisted of volunteers, convicts, policemen and soldiers. In 1888, the Municipal Commission finally took over and set up the Singapore Fire Brigade. The first purpose-built station, the Cross Street Fire Station, was completed in January 1891 and became the brigade’s main station. Apart from this building, the other stations were simply temporary sheds to house the horse-drawn engines. Lacking in trained firemen and modern firefighting equipment, the Singapore Fire Brigade soon proved inadequate and it was not until the arrival of Superintendent Montague William Pett that significant changes were made.
Pett came from England in 1904 and was Singapore’s first professional firefighter. The fire chiefs before him were not professional firefighters and had no proper training in firefighting. Pett was instrumental in modernizing Singapore’s fire brigade and implementing the necessary changes to strengthen the firefighting force. He replaced the horse-drawn fire engines with motorized engines and improved the efficiency of the fire service. He also pushed for the building of the new Central Fire Station at Hill Street to replace the smaller stations in town and to serve as the headquarters of the fire brigade. He managed to obtain funds from the government and oversaw the construction of the station, ensuring that it had proper facilities and provisions. Steel bricks and iron were specially imported from Britain, and the new station was completed in 1909.
During World War II, the Japanese dropped bombs over Singapore, causing much chaos and fires to break out. The station’s red-and-white brickwork was painted over with camouflage green. The Auxiliary Fire Service was also set up in 1939 at the station to strengthen the firefighting forces of Singapore. The auxiliary forces played a significant part in responding to the numerous small fires caused by Japanese bombs.
After Singapore fell to the Japanese, 8 professional firefighters from the Singapore Fire Brigade and 27 of the auxiliary force personnel were allowed to stay, while the rest of the British officers were interned at Changi Prison. The remaining firefighting forces continued to carry out their duties throughout the Japanese Occupation. After the war, the interned British firefighters returned to England, but some eventually came back to Singapore to resume their work at the Central Fire Station.
Built at a cost of $64,000, the Central Fire Station had a three-floor main building, with 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. The lookout tower was the tallest tower in Singapore until the 1930s and was used to spot smoke from fires until fire alarms were installed in 1915. The red-and-white brick building was nicknamed "blood and bandage". "Blood" referred to the exposed red brick of the facade and "bandage" was brick covered with plaster and painted white; this was a popular style in Edwardian England, circa early 20th century. The building underwent some modifications and additions over the years. For instance, a sliding pole was installed in the 1920s as a quick way for the men on the upper levels to reach the ground floor.
The station was granted national monument status in 1998 in recognition of its significance in Singapore history. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (the successor of the Singapore Fire Brigade) subsequently embarked on conservation and reconstruction work, including building the Heritage Gallery to commemorate the contributions and rich history of the local fire service and its firemen. The gallery is located in the oldest part of the station and features photographs of major fires, old firefighting equipment and uniforms, interactive displays and audio-visual presentations to reach out to the public. Its highlights include a 19th century fire engine, and the 30m lookout tower which visitors can climb up.
1888 : The Municipal Commission established the Singapore Fire Brigade.
1905 : The idea of building a new Central Fire Station to replace the smaller stations at Tan Quee Lan Street, Hill Street, Beach Road and Kampong Glam was mooted.
1909 : Central Fire Station began operations.
1926 : A three-storey extension with married quarters was added.
1942 - 1945 : The station remained in service throughout the Japanese Occupation.
1954 : Another extension was added at the back of the station.
1998 : The building was gazetted for preservation by the Preservation of Monuments Board. Conservation and restoration process and major internal reconstruction of the fire station began.
2001 : The Civil Defence Heritage Gallery opened its doors to the public.
Bonny Tan & Cherylyn Tok
Building a legacy: Central Fire Station crosses the century mark, 1909-2009. (c2010). Singapore: Singapore Civil Defence.
(Call no.: RSING 363.378095957 BUI)
Central Fire Station. (2010). Retrieved November 4, 2010, from Preservation of Monuments Board website: http://www.pmb.sg/
Hon, J. (1988). 100 years of the Singapore Fire Service (pp. 17, 22-23). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON)
Koh, T., Auger, T., Yap, J., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Central Fire Station. In Singapore: The encyclopedia (p. 88). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
Kwek, L. J., et al. (2009). Resonance: Songs of our forefathers (pp. 100-106). Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board.
(Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 RES)
Lee, J. (1998, September 5). Central Fire Station revamp. The Straits Times. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Lee, J. (1998, September 15). Remembering the history of the fire service. The Straits Times. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Milestones in the Singapore Fire Service. (1988, December 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
New fire station. (1909, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved November 25, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Wan, M. H., & Lau, J. (c2009). Heritage places of Singapore (pp. 52-53). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS)
Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 365). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)
Ministry of Labour. (1967). The Singapore Fire Brigade. Singapore: Government Printing Office.
(Call no.: RCLOS 371.426 SIN)
Singapore Fire Brigade. (1966-1981). Annual report. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RCLOS 354.595706782 SFDARF)
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.
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