The following is from Truth, Feb. 10th, 1887, p. 207:- There was an escape of gas at Cambridge Barracks, and this is the way of proceeding: The escape was discovered by a private, who reported it to his corporal; the corporal reported it to the colour-sergeant, and the colour-sergeant to the quartermaster-sergeant. The quartermaster-sergeant had to report it to the quartermaster, and the quartermaster to the colonel commanding the regiment. The colonel had to report it to the commissariat officer in charge of the barracks, and the commissariat officer to the barrack-sergeant, who had to report it to the divisional officer of engineers. This officer had to report it to the district officer of engineers, and he to the clerk of works, Royal Engineers, who sends for a gasman to see if there is an escape, and report back again. While the reporting is going on the barracks are burnt down.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894