Address:     137–139 Sule Pagoda Road
Year built:   1912
Architect:    United Engineers Ltd. (contractors)

Fires were a constant threat throughout the colonial period. While its surviving architectural legacy may suggest otherwise, timber was in fact the dominant building material. Rangoon’s Municipal Committee established a permanent fire brigade in 1883 and motor fire engines were introduced in 1909.

The Central Fire Station on Sule Pagoda Road—still in use today—was built just three years later. Its recognisable octagonal watchtower allowed for panoramic views of the (then relatively low-rise) city. It is set back from the main Sule Pagoda Road on a parallel section of the street. The fire engines park in four bays and have direct access to the thoroughfare. In front of the building is a small stand with a bell struck every half hour. It serves as a clock to those without a watch and still symbolises the fire brigade’s watchful eye over the city.

A watchtower tops the fire station

The two-storey building was one of the first iron-frame buildings in colonial Rangoon. It was designed by United Engineers Limited, a company formed by British pioneers Richard Riley and William Hargreaves. The men had business interests across Britain’s colonial possessions in Asia. The company would later become a major Singaporean contractor and remains in the business today.

The glass-fronted building to the right of the fire station used to be the “Diplomatic Stores”, run by the Hotel and Tourism Corporation in the days of Socialist rule. In good socialist fashion, the diplomatic corps could exclusively purchase international luxury goods here in exchange for hard currency, preferably US dollars.

An iconic octagonal watchtower tops the fire station