Firefighting in the Docks

Fireboats on the Thames - sometimes the only way to gain access to the burning wharves and warehouses. River barges are burning in the background.

On the 10th March 1941 Inspector A.H. Smith of the Metropolitan Police submitted the following report, recommending Fire Officer Frappell for an award after he saved the life of fellow officer, Fireman Korn:

I beg to report that on the 9th March 1941 at about 8.30p.m. at No. 1 Warehouse, Royal Victoria Dock, Morris Korn, age 33, an A.F.S. Fireman No.2888 West Ham Fire Brigade, attached to No.23 Fire Station near Vernons Gate, was about to step on to the barge “FROME” to assist in extinguishing a fire caused by an incendiary bomb, when he missed his footing and fell into the dock water between the barge and the quay. Fireman Frappell who was on the barge heard a splash, and on looking round, found that Korn was missing. He jumped back on to the quay, looked over the edge and saw Korn in the water. He shouted “Man overboard”, and, lying flat on the ground, reached down and held Korn’s hand.

Fireman Fisher, who was in charge of the appliance on the quay lay down beside Frappell and held Korn’s other hand. Together, both men tried to pull him from the water but were unsuccessful. A rope was then lowered and Korn held on to this. Once again an attempt was made to pull him from the water but without success. By this time Korn was becoming exhausted and told the others that he could hold on no longer.

Frappell then asked for a line to be tied round him. This was done by Fisher and he was lowered into the water beside Korn. Another line was lowered and this was tied round Korn’s shoulders by Frappell. With Frappell pushing from below, and Fireman and P.L.A. Fire Spotters pulling from the quay Korn was hauled from the water.

Both men were taken to No.23 Fire Station, rubbed down and wrapped in blankets. Frappell had fully recovered by the following morning, but although Korn said that he was not too bad he still seems a little shaky. There were six barges moored at this spot, three to the end of the barge “Frome” end to end, and liable to move in the wind. Korn admitted to me that if Frappell had not entered the water and tied the line to him he would have gone under and probably drowned. The rope dropped into the water had slipped through his hands and he had almost reached the end when the other line was secured round his shoulder. Frappell is rather a stout man; his age is 45, and the lines used were the life lines that Firemen carry as part of their equipment, not much thicker than cord.

The thinness of the lines made it difficult to pull the men from the water and certainly appeared a little frail to hold a man of Frappell’s bulk. The water was some feet below the quay edge. A N.N.Easterly wind was blowing at the time which might have blown the barges towards the quay and so jammed the men between barge and quay. Both Firemen were fully dressed and were wearing rubber boots; these filled with water and weighted the men down. There is little doubt that Frappell saved Korn’s life.

Read the whole report and witness statements at BBC People’s War. No commendation or award was made, the incident was apparently regarded as a normal part of a Fireman’s duties.

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