Former UK Chief Fire Officer and Editor of Gulf Fire magazine, fire historian and author Neil Wallington provides a snapshot of the times to mark the birth of the NFS some 80 years ago this month.
On 8 August 1941, The National Fire Service (NFS) came into being as the single fire service created by the British national government to provide firefighting and public protection during the continuing Second World War.
The NFS was formed by merging the existing wartime Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) with all 1,638 local authority fire brigades. The new body of some 60,000 men and women operated until 1948, when under the Fire Services Act 1947, fire brigades reverted to local authority control although with far fewer brigades on a city, county or county borough council basis.
The NFS was organised around 40 Fire Forces, London Fire Brigade forming several of these. Fire Forces were subdivided into Divisions, with each having two Columns and each Column consisting of five Companies.
This photographic snapshot of the NFS is necessarily London-centric, mainly due to London Fire Brigade (LFB) having considerable wartime uniformed photographic resources, plus access to those of Fleet Street and the national papers. All photographs courtesy of London Fire Brigade and the Daily Mirror.
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Seeing it through
Thank you firefighters, harnessing your hoses,
Busy at your pumps or patiently at play,
Once upon a time we used to throw you roses,
You don’t see quite such a cloud of them today.
Some of us remember the Blitz and the burning,
The black-faced force in the red and the blue,
St. Paul’s in peril and the Hun returning
The tanks all dry and the night half through.
When they sound the sirens, some of us are sleeping,
Some of us turn over, some of us complain,
But you are on the job still, we are in your keeping
And one fine night we’ll be glad of you again.
A.P. Herbert (1944)