Meet the oldest fire fighter in Tamil Nadu

Aaron David joined the erstwhile Madras Fire Service as a telephone operator in 1942, and retired in 1977, as a divisional fire officer . Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

Those who meet 89-year-old Aaron David are likely to be surprised by his British accent and the firm handshake.

He is one of the oldest surviving fire fighters in the city. He joined the erstwhile Madras Fire Service as a telephone operator in 1942, when officers from the London Fire Brigade were roped in to form the fire-fighting services.

Mr. David was born in Chennai and studied in Royapettah.

Though he retired in 1977, as a divisional fire officer, memories of his early days in the force are fresh in his mind.

“The dedicated fire-fighting force was formed in 1941-42 when Madras was under threat of aerial attack by the Japanese. Government officials were given Rs. 40 for sending their families to villages, fearing the invasion,” he says.

Back then, the department was called the Madras Fire Brigade, under the Madras Corporation, and had just one unit. The personnel wore dark blue shorts, stockings and a full-sleeved shirt.

After 1942, khaki shorts, shirt, stockings, and a peaked cap became the uniform.

“During the British period, officers were inducted into the service only if they were able to lift the hook ladder. Today, hook ladders have been replaced with sky lifters,” he says.

In 1949, the fire services came under the police department after the contract of the European officers ended. The then inspector-general of police also served as the director of fire services, says Mr. David.

Those days, fire engines were fast as they did not have to carry large quantities of water. Across the city, there was a fire hydrant system, which now lies buried under re-laid roads.

“The hose pipe had to be attached to the hydrant system to fight fire. Fire-fighting jeeps too were available to travel quickly,” he says.

Besides, there were water officers to identify and maintain waterbodies. They fixed platforms on lakes to park trailer fire pumps and draw water. Today, the fire service mostly relies on Metrowater tankers.

“Even water from Cooum river and Buckingham Canal can be used to douse flames. In 1963, we used water from the beach to extinguish fire aboard a ship, Bharat Veer, in Tiruvottiyur,” he says.

Mr. David may have retired from the department. But his thirst to keep the city safe is undying. He has been writing to the government to conduct a fire audit of movie theatres.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 6:52:17 PM |

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