18th October 1957
Sark’s Stocks Hotel was damaged by fire
The Stocks Hotel fire of 1957 was the second serious blaze on Sark that year. The first had been a pub, the Pavillion, which had burned down four months earlier. While the damage to the pub had arguably been more serious, the fact that someone had been killed at the hotel had brought things into sharp focus.
Stocks Hotel Fire
The victim of the Stocks Hotel fire was its manageress, Abagail Quigley, who had gone into its annex to rescue a dog. She was rescued herself but died at 10.30 – three hours after the fire had broken out. The dog was killed, too.
Until that point, Sark still had no fire service. Around 40 islanders helped to douse the fire but, in light of two tragedies coming so soon after one another, the decision was made to establish a dedicated fire fighting service right away.
Naturally, on Sark, compromises would need to be made when establishing a fire service. Not even the ambulance is allowed an engine on this island where the only vehicles are tractors, so there was no chance of the fire engines being self-powered.
The island invested in a pair of old buses, fixed towing points to the front by which they could be connected to a tractor and retrofitted each with a 2700 litre tank for water. There were no sirens on the engines – just hand bells – but hopefully the sound of the approaching tractor would be sufficient to warn anyone of their approach in such peaceful surroundings.
According to the official history of Sark’s fire service (PDF), the island’s switchboard operators initially called around all of the volunteers to tell them they were needed. When sufficient had arrived at the fire engine, they set off and left a note pinned up outside the fire station telling anyone else who arrived where the fire was.
When the island’s telephone switchboard was automated, the task of calling the volunteers fell to the lighthouse keepers instead. Now, like other British fire services, they are alerted by a call to 999.