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 1998.1 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 2001.2
Singapore did not have a proper fire brigade until the late 1800s; the early brigades had consisted of volunteers, convicts, policemen and soldiers. In 1888, the Municipal Commission finally took over and set up the Singapore Fire Brigade.3 The first purpose-built station, the Cross Street Fire Station, was completed in January 1891 and became the brigade’s main station.4 Unlike this building, the other stations were simply temporary sheds to house the horse-drawn engines.5 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.6
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 modernising Singapore’s fire brigade and implementing the necessary changes to strengthen the firefighting force. He replaced the horse-drawn fire engines with motorised ones and improved the efficiency of the fire service. He also pushed for the construction of the new Central Fire Station (CFS) 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 1909.7
During World War II, the Japanese dropped bombs over Singapore, causing chaos as well as 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 Singapore’s firefighting forces.8
Built at a cost of $64,000,9 the CFS had a three-storey main building, housing an engine house, living quarters for the firemen and their families, a repair shop, a carpentry shop, a paint room, a training yard and a lookout tower.10 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 1915.11 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.12 The building underwent some modifications and additions over the years.13
The CFS was granted national monument status in 1998 in recognition of its significance in Singapore’s 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 engage the public. Its highlights include a 19th-century fire engine, and the 30-metre lookout tower that visitors can climb up.14
1888: The Municipal Commission establishes the Singapore Fire Brigade.15
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, is mooted.16
1909: The Central Fire Station begins operations.17
1926: A three-storey extension with married quarters is added.18
1942–45: The station remains in service throughout the Japanese Occupation.19
1954: Another extension is added at the back of the station.20
1998: The building is gazetted for preservation by the Preservation of Monuments Board. Conservation and restoration processes as well as major internal reconstruction of the fire station begins.21
2001: The Civil Defence Heritage Gallery opens its doors to the public.22
Bonny Tan & Cherylyn Tok
1. “Central Fire Station,” National Heritage Board, accessed 30 November 2016; Saud Aqel Alattas, Building a Legacy: Central Fire Station Crosses the Century Mark, 1909–2009 (Singapore: Singapore Civil Defence, 2010), 32. (Call no. RSING 363.378095957 BUI)
2. “Fire-Station Gallery Now Open,” Straits Times, 24 November 2001, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Milestones in the Singapore Fire Service,” Straits Times, 28 December 1988, 3 (From NewspaperSG); “Milestones: 1888–1990,” Singapore Civil Defence Force, accessed 30 November 2016.
4. Joan Hon, 100 Years of the Singapore Fire Service (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 17. (Call no. RSING 363.37805957 HON)
5. Clarissa Oon, “Fire Station’s Blazing Story,” Straits Times, 5 August 2012, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. National Heritage Board, “Central Fire Station”; Oon, “Fire Station’s Blazing Story.”
7. “New Fire Station,” Straits Times, 7 October 1909, 7 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Central Fire Station”; Alattas, Building a Legacy, 15.
8. Alattas, Building a Legacy, 20; “Milestones”; National Heritage Board, “Central Fire Station.”
9. Hon, 100 Years of the Singapore Fire Service, 22.
10. “New Fire Station”; Alattas, Building a Legacy, 15.
11. Joanne Lee, “Central Fire Station Revamp,” Straits Times, 5 September 1998, 41; Joanne Lee, “Remembering the History of the Fire Service,” Straits Times, 15 September 1998, 28 (From NewspaperSG); National Heritage Board, “Central Fire Station”; Alattas, Building a Legacy, 9.
12. National Heritage Board, “Central Fire Station”; Tommy Koh et al., eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet and National Heritage Board, 2006), 88. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
13. Ted Chen, “New Centre Teaches Emergency Readiness,” Straits Times, 30 July 2010, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 88.
14. Lee, “Central Fire Station Revamp”; Lee, “Remembering the History”; National Heritage Board, “Central Fire Station”; Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 88; Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 52. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS]); Alattas, Building a Legacy, 32.
15. “Milestones”; Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 88.
16. Betty L. Khoo, “The Central Fire Station – HQ of the Modern Brigade,” New Nation, 23 February 1973, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
17. New Fire Station”; Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 88.
18. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 88.
19. Alattas, Building a Legacy, 21–22.
20. Koh et al., Singapore: The Encyclopedia, 88.
21. Lee, “Central Fire Station Revamp.”
22. “Fire-Station Gallery Now Open.”
Fire Brigade, Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: Fire Brigade, 1966–1981). Call no. RCLOS 354.595706782 SFDARF)
Ministry of Labour, Singapore, The Singapore Fire Brigade (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1967). (Call no. RCLOS 371.426 SIN)
Norman Edwards and Peter Keys, Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988), 365. (Call no. RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
The information in this article is valid as of 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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