Montague William Pett
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Montague William Pett (b. September 1880, Kent, England - d. 10 November 1940, Exeter, England.) was the first professional firefighter from England sent to Singapore to organise and head the Singapore Fire Brigade. He was instrumental in reorganising the Singapore Fire Brigade and establishing the Central Fire Station at Hill Street – Singapore’s oldest existing fire station. He was subsequently sent to Shanghai to command the Shanghai Municipal Fire Brigade.
Pett’s family was initially involved in British shipbuilding, however his grandfather had been one of the founders of the Kent Volunteer Fire Association, which served the area before a proper firefighting force was set up. Pett’s father became the superintendent of the Exeter Fire Brigade in 1888 and served as a firefighter his whole life. Pett’s brother, Algernon, was the first to bring a fire engine to South Africa.
Pett started his firefighting career by volunteering to serve in an ambulance brigade in South Africa during the Boer War. After he returned from South Africa, Pett joined Merryweather and Sons, the renowned fire engineers, to gain more technical knowledge and experience.
Singapore Fire Brigade
Pett came to Singapore in 1905 to serve as chief superintendent of the Singapore Fire Brigade (SFB). As the first professional firefighter commanding the brigade, he initiated the building of the Central Fire Station, streamlined operations and brought more modern firefighting equipment to Singapore.
When Pett first arrived, there were a few small fire sheds and stations which were inadequate and not well provided for in terms of equipment, space and capabilities. Pett advocated the building of the Central Fire Station and oversaw the planning and construction. The Central Fire Station was completed in 1909 and became the main headquarters for the brigade. The new station had an engine house, living quarters for the firemen and their families, a repair shop, a carpenter shop, a paint room, a training yard and a lookout tower.
Pett replaced the outdated horse-carriage fire engines with modern, motorised fire engines from England. The new Merryweather fire engines had greater power and capabilities, encapsulating a fire pump, fire brigade tender, hose reel and escape in one machine. These reforms greatly revolutionised the SFB, making it a more effective force. Pett also pushed for better working conditions and instituted fire safety measures for public buildings. Pett served a total of seven and a half years as chief superintendent of the SFB from 1905 to 1912. Under his leadership, the Singapore firefighting force was professionalised and made more efficient and response-ready.
Pett was set to return to England on home leave for a period of six months, before beginning his service in Shanghai. The SFB organised a grand send-off to honour Pett’s years of service in Singapore.
Shanghai Fire Brigade
After his years of service in Singapore, Pett was appointed chief officer of the Shanghai Municipal Fire Brigade. He advocated the installation of street fire alarms and wireless telephones for to avoid delayed responses by the fire brigade. Pett served in Shanghai from 1912 to 1926 and helped to transform the Shanghai fire brigade into an efficient and effective firefighting force.
Pett died at his home in Exeter on November 10, 1940 after having battled a long illness. He leaves an only daughter, R. Richards, currently residing in Shanghai where Pett had served many years.
Brother: Algernon Pett
Wife: Edie Jennings
Daughter: R. Richards
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(Call no.: RSING 363.37805957 HON)
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New fire station: Central building practically completed. (1909, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved November 25, 2010 from NewspaperSG.
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(Call No.: RSING 363.378095957 BUI)
Untitled. (1908, May 7). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved Janury 20, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Wedding at Exeter. (1908, August 10). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved December 22, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
Attempt to bribe fire supt. Pett. (1905, March 7). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved January 19, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Fire brigade case. (1909, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved December 22, 2010, from NewspaperSG.
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The information in this article is valid as at 2011 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.