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Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal

 

Fire-float Salamander


For more about Service Craft, see Bucket DredgersSuction Dredger, SL Sabrina, Steam Packets,  MC Risga

The fire-float Salamander came into service at Gloucester in 1906, with half the cost paid by local merchants (through the Chamber of Commerce) and the remainder promised by annual payments from the Dock Company and Gloucester Corporation. The hull was built by Abdela & Mitchell at Brimscombe and the pumping equipment was provided by Merryweather & Sons of London. Propulsion was by four underwater jets. Once all the debt was cleared, Salamander was formally handed over to the Corporation in 1909 and continued in service until disposed of in 1955.

Fire-float Salamander 1906Three Suspicious Fires
     
Within a year of her arrival, Salamander was called one night to fight a fire at Nicks's timber yard, about one mile down the canal, and again the following night at nearby Griggs's yard. The first fire consumed huge stacks of timber and the second destroyed a large drying shed, but Salamander and the land-based fire engines were able to prevent damage to the two saw mills. Concern about the causes of two serious fires on consecutive nights was strengthened when a third fire was discovered at Price Walker's timber yard the following day. Fortunately, this was extinguished before it did any serious damage, and a young employee eventually confessed to starting all three fires, saying that he had wanted to see the fire-float at work!

Warehouse Fire
     Salamander was in action again in December 1917 when a fire broke out in the pillar warehouse on the West Quay and quickly engulfed the building. The flames also spread to the roof of the neighbouring warehouse beside the lock, but the efforts of the fire fighters stopped the fire spreading downward, and this building was saved.

Fire-float Salamander PumpingSuccessful Exercise
     In the early 1930s, Gloucester Corporation became particularly concerned about the expense of the fire-float and the time it took to raise steam. It had a paraffin-fired boiler, but it was necessary to raise 5psi steam pressure with a wood fire before the paraffin injectors could be started. In a special test, however, the crew ran from the fire station and got it pumping in only nine minutes (picture right), and this was considered so successful that there was no further talk of getting rid of the fire-float for a long time. 

Second World War
     During the Second World War, in case of an air-raid, four crewmen slept each night in the black hut beside where the fire-float was moored. However, the only major incident was an accidental fire in the Great Western Warehouse on the opposite side of the dock in January 1945. The fire started on a floor where breakfast cereals were being packaged, and soon huge flames could be seen rising to a height of 150ft. Salamander was quickly moved across the dock but she was not tied up securely, and when her jets were turned on, the reaction made her swing round and many of the spectators on Llanthony Bridge were soaked! Several land-based pumps were also in action, but the building was so badly damaged that all but the ground floor was demolished.

Retirement
     Gloucester Corporation eventually disposed of Salamander in August 1955, and she was converted to a pleasure craft. She was taken across to Ireland to cruise the waterways there, returned to England for a time and then went to Holland, where she was for sale in 2002.

Main sources: Gloucester Journal 14 Jul 1906, 9 Mar 1907, 13 Nov 1909, 15 Dec 1917; Citizen 3 Jan 1945; memories of O. Cole and N. Firkin; photos G. North & O. Cole.

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