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The hook ladders of 1970s firefighting

A new book, “Call the Fire Brigade,” details how different things were a few decades ago

LONDON — Working as a firefighter in London’s East End during the early 1970s was no easy ride. In a new book, “Call the Fire Brigade,” Allan Grice outlines what life was like as a firefighter in those days in one of the largest departments in the world — and how different things were to the modern day.

“One of my first tasks was to master what, for me, was the biggest hurdle — hook ladders,” he says in the book. “These were so-called because of the curved bill at the top which clipped over window sills and enabled them to hang flush with the sides of buildings.”

The book outlines how they were little used elsewhere, but in London at least they proved invaluable in narrow alleyways and closed courtyards. “By using two hook ladders and continually passing them above your head, one after the other, you could reach the hairiest of heights,” he says in the book.

“On more than one occasion our station cook, Mary, would jump back in shock from the sink where she was peeling the spuds as we entered the canteen window head-first from hook ladders pitched from the High Street far below.

“In later years, health-and-safety legislation would outlaw the use both of hook ladders and of real-life scenarios in practice drills, and more than a few would come to believe that we were worse off for these restrictions.”

Photo London Fire Brigade
Hook ladder training in the 1970s in London.