Coventry Corporation Transport Society

The Fire

By Chris Marshall

I was still an apprentice when a double decker bus, that we were working on, caught fire.  I was working with a lovely Irish chap, by the name of Bill Hegarity, who was in this country for the first time.  He was married to an Irish girl by the name of Sally and they lived in Canley over the shops.

I was still at Watery Lane at this time and I was the first person to work as a mate with Bill.  It took me ages to understand the accent, for example, torty tor was forty four.  A couple of weeks soon ironed out the problems and I was no longer asking Bill to repeat what he was saying.  This introduction to the Irish accent stood me in good stead as I later spent 18 months of my army life over there, in Northern Ireland, Bill and Sally came from the south.

But to get back to the fire.  Bill and I were working on a double decker in the main Watery Lane garage.  The work consisted of a complete bus overhaul, mechanical, electrical and body.  We had finished the outside of the bus, panel replacement etc, and were on the interior.  We had stripped out all the seat backs and cushions, they were with the Trimmers being repaired where necessary.  The electrician on the job was Charlie Byers, his father was tinsmith chargehand. Charlie was a great character, full of fun and always happy.  Charlie s job was to test and clean the batteries and replace if necessary, plus check out lighting etc.

Bill and I were sitting on the very top of the seat frames, no cushions available, Charlie was cleaning the batteries.  In those days petrol was used to do the cleaning along with a paraffin brush.  Bill was a smoker and smoked a pipe, he decided it was time for a smoke.  He filled his pipe got out his matches and struck one.  The match head broke off and fell into Bill's lap.  Bill was very fast and flicked the burning match head away.  The burning head shot off his lap and fell into the tin of petrol.  The tin was an old one gallon paint tin and must have been about half full.

Flames shot up out of the tin.  Charlie quickly grabbed the tin and thinking he could smoother the flames turned it upside down.  Flaming petrol ran across the floor of the bus and in seconds turned into a raging inferno.  Flaming petrol ran through the floor drain holes and set fire to the sawdust in the pit, sawdust at that time was used on the floor of the pits to soak up any oil.  It was a good job that the sawdust was new and clean as the oil would have helped it burn faster.

Bill by now had run to the back of the bus and pulled the small extinguisher from its bracket under the stairs.  The pyrene extinguisher turned out to be of no use, the fire was much to big and the extinguisher jammed on the third stroke of the pump.  As we crouched in the entrance to the lower saloon a man came falling down the stairs, it was the tinsmith Terry Farquar who was repairing the front domes.  The black thick smoke had crept up the stairs and before Terry realised what was happening he was engulfed in a thick black tar like smoke.

In the lower saloon the fire had gained a real hold.  Ceiling panels down the front of the saloon where melting because of the high heat.  Panels all the way to the back of the saloon were twisting or starting to melt.  It was at this stage that Secce Harrison, named after the well known glue Seccotine, because he was our number one first aid man and could deal with any injury, climbed onto the platform with a foam extinguisher which was large and on wheels.  He turned on the extinguisher and out gushed the foam.  The first thing it coated was Bill and I, but then Secce got it aimed into the saloon and in a very short time the fire was under control and was soon put out.  Mechanics had dealt with the fire in the pit and apart from Terry having a lung full of smoke, everyone was safe and unharmed.

The fire was a pure accident, but Bill was frightened that he would be blamed and lose his job, so he got us all to say that we did not know what happened.  Bill worked for many years, with the CCT, bought a house on Mount Nod, lived there for some years before selling up and moving back to Southern Ireland.

The bus was restored and left the garage months later looking no worse for its ordeal, in fact it looked as good as new.