Home of Compassion celebrate NCHOD

It was a day to remember at the Home of Compassion in Thames Ditton to celebrate National Care Home Open Day.  We had a gleaming Dennis Rapier Fire Engine on site for young and old to investigate at close quarters.  This vehicle was the last of the small chassis Dennis Fire engines to be manufactured.  These days they just purchase a truck and attach a Dennis specialist rear end.  The short wheel base of the Dennis gave fire crews a small turning circle which made it ideal for working in areas with tiny village back roads; something today’s crews find harder in the converted vehicles provided now.

Impressive statistics of this engine include being able to pump water at a rate of 1800 litres per minute going at full pelt; considering the on-board tank only holds 1800 litres, the importance of finding a fire hydrant immediately are clearly evident – you can’t really turn up to a fire and pump water for a minute then claim you have run out!

We were educated by Tim, who has been a fireman for 38 years, on how the equipment on each side has a specialist task.  One side was for fires concerning buildings and the other concentrates on the kit for RTA’s, Road Traffic Accidents.  The RTA side has a dizzying array of scary cutting implements and essential first aid kits.  Within the cab you will find the full complement of breathing equipment, because smoke is the first and main killer in a fire rather than the flames themselves.

Did you know there are five types of hose on board to cater for the different types of fire, the ambient temperature of the air surrounding the fire and prevention of the spread of fire?  One such type of hose emits a fine mist to cool down the air to avoid a Flash Over.  A Flash Over is when the thermal temperature of the air is so high that items within the vicnity will spontaneously combust.  Reducing the air temperature over a wider area reduces the risk of Flash Over.

Many residents and visitors alike enjoyed the wealth of knowledge imparted by our friendly fire man.  But one particular resident took a special interest.  Generally a quiet chap, his eyes lit up when he spotted the engine in the car park in preparation for our Open Day.  He eagerly regaled his tales of being in the Fire Auxiliary Service during the war.  When the war started, the organisation was purely voluntary and attached to the Civil Defence Service and worked alongside the existing fire service.  However these endeavours were hampered severely by the incompatibility of equipment used by these different brigades.  Norman, our quiet chap, was one of 200,000 volunteers in the AFS during 1939.  He was a runner (on his trusted bicycle) keeping everyone informed of fire developments/water availability.  To give you an idea of the scale of the task, during the first three weeks of the blitz in 1940 the AFS put out 10,000 fires in London alone.  Many AFS used taxis, cars and wagons to transport pumps to the site of fires.  As the war progressed the bombing increased and in 1941 changes were afoot for the amalgamation of the voluntary and paid organisations and National Fire Service was born in August that year.

Norman ended up being part of the National Fire Service but still did not get paid and was expected to hold down another job.  He said this was not unusual and that it was a general ethos of the whole population.  Being a scout at the tender age of 15, even in the year leading up to the war, his leaders instilled the need to volunteer towards the upcoming war effort.  The country as a whole had been preparing for the eventuality with the vain hope that war would not happen.  All the services had their junior divisions, the air force, the army, the fire service and even the home guard.

When the war got underway fires in houses, mills and factories where the normal part of the day for all the population and Norman found it amazing that for the last half a century many ordinary citizens may not have witnessed a fire in person.  He still does not consider his efforts during the war to be extraordinary.

Many bombing raids had advanced planes that dropped bombs in a line to start fires in built up areas; they took special care to spread the bombs out to hamper the efforts on the ground.  Then the main bombers would move in having their way lit by existing flames, so many fire personnel lost their lives in the second wave of bombing whilst fighting the first wave of fires. In fact on a percentage scale, it is staggering statistic that you had more chance of being injured or killed working for the AFS/NFS than on being on the front line. Many of the fires were quenched using stirrup pumps, similar in style to upright air pumps we use for pumping up our bicycle tyres.  Imagine doing a full day at work then pumping water by hand all night!

Norman’s story is not an unusual one, but in these times of peace within the UK, we tend to forget the endeavours of the whole population to afford us the freedom we take for granted.  Inspiring Norman to share his experiences was alone worth the effort of the fireman bringing his vehicle to our property.

Whilst Norman and Tim shared tales of fire fighting in their respective eras, everyone else was being treated to guided tours of our beautiful Grade II* listed building and enjoying tea and cakes on the lawns overlooking the River Thames.  The sun shone especially for us and our home bustled with activity and it was lovely to see the local community engage with all our residents.

All in all, the day was a resounding success.

Home of Compassion is dedicated to providing the highest level of residential, nursing and dementia care for up to 71 elderly residents.

The luxurious care home is set in delightful surroundings in the heart of Thames Ditton, with beautiful views over the river. For more information about Home of Compassion and Caring Homes visit our website at www.caringhomes.org.

Home of Compassion

Home Manager

Avril Jones


58 High Street,
Thames Ditton,

0808 223 5406
View care home

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