In 1907, a Scottish engineer found himself knocking on financiers doors seeking development funding for a portable, hand-held fire extinguisher.
Failing to find a sympathetic ear he was forced to take his invention to the US where he established what was to later become known as the Pyrene Company of Delaware in 1909.
Five years later a American businessman, Wallace B. Phillips, took out UK patents for extinguisher and founded the Pyrene Company Limited in 1914. where a small range of hand pump extinguishers were sold for domestic and transportation use.
In 1910, The Pyrene Manufacturing Company of Delaware filed a patent to use carbon tetrachloride to extinguish fires. The liquid vaporised and extinguished the flames by inhibiting the chemical chain reaction of the combustion process (it was an early 20th-century presupposition that the fire suppression ability of carbon tetrachloride relied on oxygen removal.) In 1911, they patented a small, portable extinguisher that used the chemical. This consisted of a brass bottle with an integrated hand pump that was used to expel a jet of liquid toward the fire.
After Electric Lighting Act of 1882 allowed for the establishment up of supply systems by 'persons, companies or local authorities’, the roll out of a stable domestic electricity supply to households across Britain gathered momentum but it was not until after the First World War that electricity made its way into homes on a much larger scale. While the introduction of the Electricity (Supply) Act in 1926, saw the establishment of the national grid, electricity was still viewed somewhat warily by generations used to gas or oil lighting.
Home safety became a key concern and saw the establishment of a number of Fire Extinguisher manufactures catering to the domestic market. The largest of these was the Pyrene Company….
Paralleling the popular development of the automobile and aviation industries of the period, Pyrene established their own manufacturing plant in Grosvenor Gardens London moving later to larger premises in Stoke Newton in 1920 with the aim of securing large government contracts for their growing range of soda-acid and foam fire extinguishers.
Their biggest break came when the London General Omnibus Company (later to become London Transport) awarded Pyrene the contract for its fire extinguishers in 1924. At the time Pyrene had been outsourcing their firefighting chemicals to the Brent International Chemical Company but as demand soared, they developed their own chemical division, moving again to a new Art Deco style factory at Brentwood in 1930 where they pioneered the concept of large fire fighting demonstrations at their demonstration grounds next door.
The large scale demonstrations proved a great success and Pyrene were soon supplying fire fighting systems to the transportation industry including a wide range of commercial shipping culminating in a contract to outfit the largest and most luxurious ocean liner of the period, the Queen Mary with a pyrene firefighting system in 1933.
During the 30’s Pyrene continued marketing their home fire extinguisher range but always knew their future lay in the commercial field and continued to position themselves as the leading supplier of fire fighting solutions to industry and transportation, in particular - the rapidly emerging aviation industry.
Pitching their fire fighting systems to the British Air Ministry leading up to the declaration of war with Germany, Pyrene secured contracts for both airfield and hanger fire fighting systems as well as the contract to outfit the RAF’s new generation of light and heavy bombers such as the Vickers Wellington and Avro Lancaster.
Safe for electrical and fuel fires, Pyrene’s small compact shape and high velocity spray made it an ideal portable extinguisher for the RAF, with its carbon tetrachloride mix vaporising and extinguishing the flames by interfering with the chemical reaction. As a result, Pyrene brass, hand-pump extinguishers were mounted on bulkhead walls at key points throughout the aircraft.
One incredible account of its use was during an RAF bomber Command raid on the Germain industrial city of Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April 1944 when after successfully dropping its load over the target, a Lancaster from the RAF’s Pathfinder 106 Squadron was attacked by night fighters who managed to score a number of hits and set the Lancaster’s starboard wing alight.
Already injured by shell fragments, the Flight Engineer, Sergeant Norman Cyril Jackson, convinced the pilot he could climb out of the cockpit onto the wing and extinguish the blaze between the fuselage and the inner engine.
Grabbing the Pyrene from its holder above the navigation desk he pushed it down into the top of his life jacket and clipping on a parachute started climbing out of the jettisoned escape hatch above the pilot's head.
Unfortunately before he could fully leave the hatch, his parachute opened with the canopy and lines spilling into the cockpit. Undaunted, he continued climbing out onto the wing with the pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathering the parachute together and paying out the lines as Sergeant Jackson crawled along the fuselage to the flames.
With the aircraft travelling at almost 200mph thousands of feet above the ground, he made his way down onto the wing root but slipped, only just managing to grab hold of an air intake on the wing's leading edge.
Having lost the extinguisher in the fall and with the flames now spreading, Jackson was last seen being swept over the wing into the darkness with his clothing and parachute alight.
Realising the Lancaster was all but lost, the pilot gave the order for the remaining crew to bail out with all but the pilot and the tail gunner surviving.
Miraculously Sergeant Jackson made it to the ground alive and with a broken ankle, severe burns to his hands and one eye, was eventually interned in a German POW camp for the reminder of the war.
For his courageous attempt to extinguish the flames and save his fellow crew members, Sergeant Jackson was awarded the Victoria Flying Cross.
The US Army also made use of Pyrene’s compact and versatile extinguishers, installing them throughout their WWII Willey jeeps and truck transports.
After WWII, Pyrene continued to expand their fire fighter services, especially in the area of remote and automated fire suppression.
Pyrene’s growth continued up until 1971 when the Company evolved into the Fire Fighting company we know today as Chubb Fire Fighting Systems.
This is a fully working, wartime Pyrene hand extinguisher. A stunning and rare piece of industrial design, it would make a wonderful gift for any aviation enthusiast looking to secure a unique piece of original RAF aviation equipment installed aboard the British Heavy bombers such as the Avro Lancaster and Vickers Wellington.
* Please note that this original Recovery Curios Aircraft Display is also available in a Super Detailed, Large Scale 1/48 version with some astounding and simply awesome detail. Click on the ‘1/48 Scale Model Option' at the top of this page to order.
This later model of the Avro Lancaster Extinguisher comes complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in the aircraft cockpit.
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Your Avro Lancaster Pyrene Fire Extinguisher, Original Recovery Curios Warbird Collectable includes:
- Highly detailed hand-built and airbrushed 1/72 or Super Size 1/48 Scale custom-built scale model of the aircraft
- Original Warbird instrument
- Hand-crafted and beautifully finished 100yr, Far North Queensland Mango Wood display stand
- Detailed, 2-sided, printed and laminated Instrument Fact Sheet detailing aircraft and instrument
- Removable Magnetic Display Arm
The heavily detailed scale model is available with wheels & flaps up or down and bomb bays open or closed. Upon order placement you will receive an email asking for your preferred configuration.
Your complete Recovery Curios Original Instrument Collectable is securely packed and delivery normally takes between 4 - 6 weeks approx plus postage.
Did you fly, crew or maintain an Avro Lancaster or have a friend, colleague or family member who did? Check out our PERSONALISED ORIGINAL INSTRUMENT COLLECTABLE OPTION here.