The History of Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service
Since its crucial discovery in the depths of pre-history, fire
has been both the friend and foe of mankind. As such firefighting
has always been essential to keep fire's destructive side in
check and so realise its constructive potential - a potential that
has eventually led to the industrial and commercially based wealth
that underpins the life we enjoy today.
The industrial and commercial revolution of the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries witnessed a rapid rise in the
prosperity of the port of Liverpool. Warehouse fires, now crammed
with valuables from all over the globe were not only increasingly
common but were also becoming increasingly expensive.
This success story also saw an inevitably rapid rise in the
numbers of workers moving into the poorly built, crowded slums
that began to characterise Liverpool and its Merseyside environs.
Fire began to become a big problem. Following a particularly
bad conflagration at Lancelot Hey in 1833, where many warehouses
and homes were destroyed, a city fire brigade was finally established
the following year, after a successful private parliamentary bill at Westminster.
This Brigade then became part of the Liverpool City Police Force
that was founded in 1836. This led to the famous term "Fire
Bobby " that attached itself to Liverpool's firefighters
until very recent times.
Other towns on Merseyside, such as Birkenhead, formed its own police
fire brigade in 1837, but as with Wallasey, Southport and St Helens,
it relied upon co-operation with Liverpool if efficient firefighting
was to be carried out. Unfortunately, such assistance foundered on the reef
of non-standardisation of equipment. Forward thinkers in Liverpool's
Fire Brigade introduced equipment adapters in order to circumvent this difficulty.
Liverpool's proud record of being a city that embraced modernity - as
reflected in its famous but necessary development of Public Health - is
exemplified by the Fire Brigade's utilisation of breathing apparatus
and piped water even in the late 1840s. By the 1860s, as the
American Civil War drew to a close, horse-drawn but steam-powered
pumps were seen efficiently fighting fires in Liverpool's streets.
After much experimentation, mechanically propelled fire engines
were in regular use in Liverpool and indeed throughout Merseyside
The First World War of 1914 to 1918 influenced Merseyside's fire
brigades both technically and organisationally. This war was
fought on a total scale involving all citizens - both uniformed
and non-uniformed. As in the rest of industrial Britain, Merseyside's
factories churned out each day more and more of the technically
sophisticated machines of battle the "total war" demanded. As a
part of these rapidly developing industrial processes, Merseyside
workers found themselves having to be more conscious of fire
hazards and fire prevention methods. Zeppelin-borne incendiary
bomb raids added to the hazards of fire as the war drew to a
In the 1930s, the threat of war against Nazi Germany loomed.
Fear of German air raids, especially as revealed by the use in
1937/8 of Nazi airborne terror against the beleaguered citizens
of Republican Spain, led Government planners to look at a more
efficient means of organising effective fire fighting for Britain's
cities. A National Fire Fighting plan emerged with first the
Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in late 1938. A National Fire Service
(NFS) in 1941 swallowed up all local brigades and Merseyside's
Brigade became NFS District 26.
NFS District 26 certainly saw action on Merseyside. Initially
many wrongly saw firemen as dodging the forces. In its early
months the war - known as the phoney war - was mainly remote from
many people's experience. However, as first Birkenhead and then
Wallasey was bombed in the late summer of 1940, war became both
close and terrifying. Firemen suddenly became very valuable frontline
people's fighters. Bootle was the most bombed town in England
with the NFS and AFS firemen heroically fighting to save many
thousands of the homes and lives of its mainly working class
citizens. For nine months Merseyside held out and much depended
on the bravery and organisation of its firemen and women.
After the war the fire service was reorganised. Lessons of organisation
and standardisation had been learned from the NFS/AFS period.
The 1947 Fire Services Act ushered in this new period. This seminal
piece of legislation established the main urban fire brigades
of Merseyside: Liverpool; Birkenhead; Bootle; Wallasey and Southport.
No longer Police brigades, these services were Fire Brigades in
their own right with their own Chief Fire Officer.
the first two decades that followed World War Two, Merseyside's
brigades continued to develop both in a pro-active and a reactive
way. The urban congestion that stemmed from the increased prosperity
of the "Never had it so good" years of the fifties
also slowed down fire call responses. Ever
the innovator, Liverpool introduced "Green Wave" designated
routes for Fire appliances to get through heavy traffic - even
the lights against them. The tragic Henderson Stores fire on
22nd June 1960 that claimed - despite the brave efforts of firemen
and other workers - the lives of eleven people, directly propelled
the introduction of sprinkler systems.
In April 1974, as a result of the 1972 Local Government Act, the
Fire Brigades of Merseyside were merged into the one Merseyside
County Fire Brigade. Liverpool provided the headquarters for
this new Brigade at its Hatton Garden offices. This building
had been a Fire Headquarters since 1899, but it became obvious
in later years that it was a bit too old for what was now a modern
community-based fire service. Modernisation saw the "Brigade" become
a "Service" that being less militaristic, perhaps
seeking to reflect the diverse community it sought to protect.
That was a name only, however. Modernisation in a tangible form
came in February 2002 when the old Hatton Garden finally closed
down and the new Headquarters opened at Bridle Road, Bootle.