Wednesday, 1 April 2009

London Fire Brigade HQ, Albert Embankment SE1

Down at Chichester Harbour on Sunday we watched with fascination as waterborne firefighters battled to dowse a burning powerboat off Emsworth. I was reminded of the incident when I passed the HQ of the London Fire Brigade yesterday.
Over the entrance are swirling, dramatic carvings by Gilbert Bayes, dating from 1937. The lowest shows merfirefighters dowsing a blaze on a steamship by pointing fish at them. Other fish are doing their bit in the water behind. Unusually, the merfirefighters have bifurcated tails like the Starbucks mermaid, and are wearing stylish seashell helmets. The subject reflects the fact that the Brigade's river section is based at a jetty here.
Bayes depicts other myths of fire above. Phaeton tries to drive his father Apollo's chariot through the sky but the horses are cutting up rough and are about to dive onto the earth, creating the Sahara desert and burning the skin of the Ethiopian black.
At the top is a strange creature cobbled together from the head of a lioness, the talons and wings of an eagle and the tail of a snake. It isn't a chimera (body of lioness, tail of snake, head of goat) or a gryphon (body of lion, head, talons and wings of eagle). Whatever it is, I wouldn't like it to appear over my house. The insurance company would never believe my house was burned down by a lioneaglesnake.
Below the mythical fire-related sculptures on the facade of the London Fire Brigade's HQ, sculptor Gilbert Bayes placed a couple of panels showing ordinary heroes at work.
My son is a firefighter and looked at them with a professional eye. Apparently, the hoses have no means of controlling the water flow which must have made them extremely difficult to use, not to mention rather dangerous.
The ladder drill panel shows a method of climbing walls using short ladders with hooks on the end. The firefighter hooks it onto a window frame or ledge, climbs up to it, hauls the ladder up behind and repeats the procedure until he gets to the top. British fire brigades have abandoned this method now as it is simply too dangerous, but some Eastern European firefighters still do it.

1 comment:

CarolineLD said...

'Merfirefighters': what a fabulous word! As ever, you've highlighted some extraordinary features which I'd not have fully appreciated otherwise.