Departments // Summury presentation with a focus on the period
BVCM - Bombeiros Voluntários da Cruz de Malta
This VFD, founded in Lisbon in the year of 1917, is a very special case within the institutional universe concerned by this platform. The first distinctive characteristic is that the BVCM is the sole FD in Portugal where the name does not specifically refer to any geographic area, not even to the very city where it has mainly operated! It was found that the parent entity from which this VFD has originated (the Sovereign Order of Malta, through its Hospitality branch) had a structured presence elsewhere in Portugal for the performance of humanitarian duties. Whether or not that would have led to performing first-aid or rescue operations, including the use of dedicated vehicles, it is not known. No images are available either.
Traces of that wider geographic presence concern the cities of Oporto, Faro and Ponta Delgada among other, as well as the former (ie: before 1975) Portuguese colonies/overseas territories of Mozambique and Angola. No images are however available with regard to motor apparatus. In Oporto there was a formal BVCM Delegation (at least active in 1936) and the same arrangement was apparently also adopted at Mozambique (in the then Porto Amélia city, currently Pemba). As for Angola an independent VFD Cruz de Malta was founded in 1967 in the capital city-Luanda. However and for the latter case, there are credible verbal reports that no equipment was ever operated.
The pre-existing VFDs in Lisbon were assigned the complementary co-designation of Lisbon’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Auxiliary Divisions of Fire Services, for the purpose of coordinating operations with the BSB. Differently the VFD Cruz de Malta was appointed as Lisbon’s 1st First-Aid Auxiliary Division instead, a category that would also concern the initial period of operation of the VFDs Beato e Olivais and Cabo Ruivo. This is a clear indication that, at least at the time of their foundation, those three FDs did not aim to (or did not qualify for) fire-fighting duties. It is noted that the 1936 headed paper of the Cruz de Malta VFD described the entity as one “Humanitarian Association” and also as a “Health Corps”, not as a formal FD thus. It is furthermore noted that the original crest of the VFD Cruz de Malta, shows the logo of the Maltese Order exclusively and not the typical symbols sported at that time by Portuguese FDs (torch, helmet, axe, ladder or the phoenix).
Having in mind the nature and the assumed motivation of its foundation the VFD Cruz de Malta was, from its very start, highly focused on health-care services provided to the citizens, notably first-aid and patient transportation in cases of illness or accident. That would naturally have a direct reflex in the nature and purpose of the equipment owned and operated, including the automotive vehicles.
Furthermore this VFD has set and operated 3 first-aid and health care clinics, in the city of Lisbon (including one at its fire-house), while it was also able to deploy a small but fully fledged mobile field hospital as well as to engage in rescue duties in the context of Civil Defense.
The operation of the above mentioned field hospital is visible in exercises of high public impact, where a few available images show a central portable shelter unit along with ambulances and other operational support apparatus. This information is sourced from press pictures and news dating July 1940 and September 1941. Those activities concerned exercises aimed to the preparation of proper response in case of chemical warfare. This is a notable sign of the relevance and prestige of this VFD at that time.
As for the motorized apparatus held, a very unusual Studebaker open body first-aid responder was inaugurated in 1936. It has seen service in the 1940 exercise as documented by the press. This particular rig combined the roles of personnel carrier and primitive ambulance (for 1 stretcher case); in the absence of any full pictures of the truck (only partial views are available…) an artistic recreation of it is shown in this platform.
More recently, the acquisition of ambulances took in account the possibility of accommodating two stretcher cases, for as many patients, should that be necessary (e.g. a Peugeot D3 and a Citroen H ambulances, dating from the early fifties). It should be further highlighted that, in more recent years, the VFD Cruz de Malta has operated a modern mobile first-aid station on a Citroen H chassis (2 different units, were actually operated, one after the other), similarly to the ones operated in the same period or earlier by the VFDs of Ajuda, Lisbonenses (as from 1964) and Campo de Ourique (as from 1962).
It is an historical fact that it was one VFD Cruz de Malta ambulance that has provided transportation to the Coroner’s Office of the then Prime Minister Sá Carneiro’s body, after he sustained deadly injuries in one aircraft accident after take-off from Lisbon’s airport, in December 1980.
At a time that could not be determined with precision (likely in the 70’s) the VFD Cruz de Malta started operating a fire-fighting response service, by means of mobilizing certified (?) personnel and a few special-purpose apparatus, which nature varied along the years. Those vehicles included, in different periods: a light/medium-duty Pierce pumper (operated beforehand by the VFD Ajuda) and one medium/heavy duty Mercedes pumper (donated by the then BSB), as illustrated in this platform. At least one tanker/water carrier and a few jeeps were also part of the apparatus fleet, in one time or another.
There is documented evidence of one flatbed transport truck with a full canvas cover as well as of the jeeps (command and/or utility cars). There is also notice (not images though) of this VFD owning one Zebro inflatable boat, mobile over a trailer hauled by a jeep, which purpose was to provide.
Ref# 1: site http://files.cruzdemalta.pt/200000257-9fc89a0c19/Folheto%20Bombeiros%20Malta%20FINAL_Page_2.jpg
Ref# 2: F. H. Santos (Coord.); Bombeiros Portugueses-seis séculos de história (2 vols).SNB/LBP, Lisboa 1995
© LIS50 | 2016 50 years of Lisbon’s motorized fire & rescue apparatus - 1930 through 1979 // (an history-aimed, not-for-profit private initiative)
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