Prior to the late 1800s, there was no proper firefighting unit in Singapore. Frequent fires that plagued the island often resulted in deaths and massive property destruction. Although the Singapore Fire Brigade was then set up in 1888 and the first fire station at Cross Street completed three years later in 1891 as the brigade’s headquarters, these proved to be insufficient due to the lack of trained firemen and up-to-date firefighting equipment.
It was not until the arrival of a professional English firefighter Montague William Pett in 1904 that significant improvements were made to Singapore’s firefighting force. In addition to upgrading the fire engines and boosting the fire service’s efficiency, Pett successfully pushed for the building of the Central Fire Station, which served as the new headquarters of the fire brigade. The station was well equipped with an engine house, living quarters for the firemen and their families, a repair shop, carpenter shop, paint room, training yard, as well as a lookout tower.
During World War II, the station was painted over with camouflage green to protect it from air raids. The Auxiliary Fire Service was also set up in 1939 at the station to enhance Singapore’s firefighting forces. When Singapore eventually fell to the Japanese forces, several firefighters were retained to continue their duties during the war, while the rest were interned at Changi prison. At the end of the war, although the interned British firefighters returned to England, a few of them eventually came back to Singapore to resume their work at the Central Fire Station.
In 1998, the Central Fire Station was gazetted as a national monument to pay homage to its significance in Singapore’s history. In conjunction with the restoration and refurbishment of the station by the Singapore Defence Force (successor of the Singapore Fire Brigade), the Civil Defence Heritage Gallery was built to commemorate the local fire service’s contributions. Situated in the oldest part of the station, this gallery showcases Singapore’s firefighting history through photographs of major fires, old firefighting equipment and uniforms, interactive displays and audio-visual presentations.