February 1942: Fire in the Town Hall in Ede

On the 19th of February 1942, in a house on the Telefoon Road in Ede the telephone rings at around twenty-five past nine in the morning, fire Chief, Van Egmond picks up the telephone. Deputy Commander Marinus van As reports that the fire brigade is required at the Grote Street (presently called Notary Fischer Street) because there is a chimney fire in the town hall.

Van Egmond does not hesitate for a moment and asks the Air Protection Service to call the other fire departments, but he receives no answer during the discussion. He summons his wife Grietje to make a phone call. A fireman who lives a little further afield does not answer, and Van Egmond rushes to Garage Robben near the Old Church. Van As has already called the mechanic, and he immediately opens the doors. The Fire Engine's motor is already running. Van Edmond quickly writes 'fire town hall' on the sign, and together they all drive to the Market. Thick clouds of smoke gather above the town hall. They must hurry, but it seems that nothing is going to plan that day.

Setback after setback
It turns out that two employees from the garage are already at the Market, and one of them has fire experience. Van Egmond directs them to layout a reel of hoses, but the mechanic immediately spots a problem. The temperature has been below zero for a whole month. As a result, the well at the Market, which should supply the water, is now covered with a thick layer of snow and ice. The group is busy preparing the extinguishing equipment. Two more firefighters arrive at the Market, where Van Egmond gives them instructions. He also directs the mechanics to drive to the Otterlosche Road (now the Bospoort Road). They need to connect to a fire hydrant there.

After giving out his orders, the Commander arrives at the town hall. He can already see the flames engulfing the roof tiles on the south side of the building. Unfortunately, wherever he and his men try, it seems impossible to connect to a fire hydrant. Due to the freezing temperatures, the straw used to protect the cisterns, and the fire hydrants against the frost is soggy. Permeated with ice. Van Egmond thinks fast, and he sends two men to Boschpoort Street (now Grote Street). This fire cistern is not frozen!

But, there is no stopping the fire. Van Egmond can see that the attic of the building is inaccessible. Laying hoses from the water sprayer on the Otterlosch Road takes much longer than usual. As at the Market, the first hose reel has been laid at the frozen fire cistern. It first has to be rolled up again before it can be moved to another cistern. Moreover, the distance to the town hall is roughly 300 metres. It takes around half an hour before the water sprayer can generate two spurts of water. In the meantime, the cistern in front of the town hall has been accessed. At around half-past ten, the fire brigade noticed that the roof and the attic had burned to such an extent, that there was no longer any danger to surrounding buildings. The extinguishing continues for hours. But at half-past five in the afternoon, the firefighters leave. They leave blackened walls, charred beams and, thousands of burnt documents. These documents were once the Ede Population Register. It appears to be nothing more than a fatal coincidence. 
 

Coincidence or accident or…?
The following day, Van Egmond reassesses the situation. He writes in his report that frozen fire hydrants hampered the extinguishing work. Police Officer Klaus, drew up a report, which the Commissioner signed for approval. On the 4th of March, he presents his account of events to National Socialist party member, Mayor Van Dierendock. That is the end of the matter. The occupier accepts the report of an accidental fire, due to poor extinguishing conditions. Unlike the Germans, some citizens of Ede questioned the conclusion.

This was a 'coincidence' or an 'accident'. They suspect that there is more to it than that. Is it a concealed act of resistance? Could the Fire Chief not reach any of his men by telephone from his home? The fire brigade that was there in the end, could they have not been there much faster? Fire Cisterns that could only just be used? Moreover, the significance of a destroyed population register is notable, because, after all, it was a means of control for the German occupier. There is still no conclusive proof for the rumour that the resistance started the fire in the town hall. But, it is plausible by now, certainly because we also know that Van Egmond played an active role in the Ede resistance. 

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