Fire Service History

History of the UK Fire and Rescue Service

HistoryThe modern day Fire Brigade has evolved following many years of development and improvements since almost pre-history. From the time man discovered fire, he has also battled to control the flames.

The first organised firefighting is believed to have originated in the UK during the Roman invasion in AD43. Even then, fighting fires was often limited to nothing better than buckets of water or simple syringes that squirted water at the fire. Once the Romans left, firefighting took a backward step as communities fell into decline.

During the middle ages many towns and cities simply burned down because of ineffective fire fighting arrangements and because of the building materials used at the time; mainly wood. Following some spectacular losses, some parishes organised basic firefighting, but no regulations or standards were in force. The Great Fire of London, in 1666, changed things and helped to standardise urban fire fighting.

Following a public outcry during the aftermath of probably the most famous fire ever, a property developer named Nicholas Barbon introduced the first kind of insurance against fire. Soon after the formation of this insurance company, and in a bid to help reduce the cost and number of claims, he formed his own Fire Brigade. Other similar companies soon followed his lead and this was how property was protected until the early 1800s. Policy holders were given a badge, or fire mark, to affix to their building. If a fire started, the Fire Brigade was called. They looked for the fire mark and, provided it was the right one, the fire would be dealt with. Often the buildings were left to burn until the right company attended! Many of these insurance companies were to merge, including those of London, which merged in 1833 to form The London Fire Engine Establishment, whose first Fire Chief was James Braidwood. Braidwood had come to London after holding the position of the Chief Officer of Edinburgh Fire brigade. Edinburgh’s authorities had formed the first properly organised brigade in 1824.

A major change in the way fires were fought came into being in the mid 1850s when the first reliable steam powered appliances were adopted by brigades. These appliances replaced the manual engines and allowed a far great quantity of water to be to be directed onto a fire. These Steam powered appliances were only to last slightly longer than 50 years due to the introduction of the internal combustion engine in the early 1900s.

James Braidwood would die in 1861 whist fighting a warehouse fire in Tooley Street, London. Other areas of the UK had either Volunteer Fire Brigades or Town Fire Brigades. It wasn’t until 1938 that many of these brigades were amalgamated.

Before 1938 there were between 1400 and 1500 small municipal fire brigades run by local councils in the UK.

In 1938 the AFS followed by the NFS were formed. The formation on the NFS would ensure uniformity in much of the basic equipment used by the country’s Fire Brigades during what was the busiest time ever in the history of the UKs Fire Service.

Following the ending of the war the N.F.S was taken over by local County Authorities.

The Fire Services Act (1947) became effective on the 1st of April 1948; this resulted in 148 County Council and County Borough run Fire Brigades. This act has since been updated as recently as 2004. In 1974 following local government re-organisation many brigades were amalgamated, losing many City and County Borough Fire Brigades.

Further changes, carried out in 1986, saw the formation of some Municipal Boroughs and some County Brigades were renamed. More recently, many of these Brigades have been removed from Local Authority control and have become independent Fire Authorities.

There are at present 63 brigades in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.