Our last two posts were dedicated to bicycle police and emergency medical service bicycles. Our next post in the four-part series dedicated to the utility of using a bicycle for emergency and patrol services will focus on fire service bicycles. It will admittedly be a rather short post, as it would appear that the use of bicycles for firefighting was, and still is, not surprisingly, quite limited. Header photo credit: For the Love of Bikes.
History of Fire Service Bicycles
The history of fire service bicycles is relatively hazy. I did however, find a handful of useful resources about early fire service vehicles, which appear to have been primarily used prior to the development of motorized transportation. Although I was haven’t yet be able to get my hands on what appears to be a very useful article by Steven Carter (1999) titled Fire Service Bicycles: Did They Ever Exist?, which was published in The Wheelman magazines, I did read through a journal article that cited Carter’s piece. The citing article – The Product Life Cycle and the Use of Bicycles to Deliver Goods and Services by Ross D. Petty – is a definitely worth the read in general. As for its reference to fire service bicycles, Petty indicates that fire service bicycles of some variety were definitely used in Australia, Great Britain, and France, and for the most part, it would appear that the use was limited to the late 1800’s and very early 1900’s.
In 1905, the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) Company – who are actually well-known for their motorcycles – commissioned a fire service bicycle. It is probably that the use of those fire service bicycles was limited to Great Britain, and I do not know how many were produced. Nonetheless, the frames were designed to accommodate a fire hose, a siren, and an axe.
Photo credit: Bicycle Evolution
BSA was actually quite involved in the early development of bicycles, and they are well-known for a variety of three-wheeled bicycles, including the “Otto” safety bike, which had wheels on each side, the “Alpha” ordinary bicycle, and many other safety bicycles and tricycles. BSA was also involved in the R&D of many important bicycle parts, which are now standard on most bicycles. But beyond the early 1900’s, BSA devoted a great deal of their attention to the development of motorcycles.
Fire service bicycles also appeared to be in use in the mid 1900’s. The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in Great Britain used fire brigade bicycles, some of which are still around today. Old Bike has a good selection of photos of two old fire brigade bicycles, which are being restored, but it is unclear what the AFS used the bicycles for. Perhaps getting to the fire to assist with suppression and extinction of the fire? However, after the 1940’s it seems that fire service bicycle use basically disappeared.
Photo Credit: Old Bike
Modern Fire Service Bicycles
Modern firefighting generally requires a great deal of equipment, so it comes as no surprise that the modern use of bicycles for fire service is basically nonexistent. I did however, find one case of fire service bicycle use. Specifically, in the U.K., fire fighters are being deployed by bike to patrol neighborhoods and areas in which the crime of arson is a major problem. This helps to emphasize the point made in the police bike and EMS bike posts that using the bicycle as a vehicle for patrolling areas can be much more effective that using a motor vehicle.
However, this is the only information I could find about the use of modern fire service bikes. There are bike history enthusiasts that have restored and re-built old fire service bicycles, but for the most part, fire service by bicycle is basically non-existent.
Photo Credit: The Heathcote Valley Online
But if you have any information about fire service bicycles that I have missed, I would love to hear from you!