Auxiliary Fire Service and the National Fire Service 1938 - 1948

The Auxiliary Fire service (AFS) was established under the Air Raids Precautions Act 1937, which received Royal Assent December 22 and it became law 1st Jan 1938.

At first things were chaotic. Whilst central government would supply the pumps it was left to local authorities to provide the stations, recruit the personnel, train and equip them.

AFS Mather Avenue.
AFS Mather Avenue.

Each fire authority, and there were 17 across Merseyside, thus made their own arrangements. Some of the AFSs were, apart from receiving training, almost entirely separately run from the professional fire brigades with their own command structure. Others had a degree of co-operation but none were properly integrated or co-operated with their regular Brigades. The AFS was very much the junior partner despite the vital nature of their task.

In Liverpool, the regular Fire Brigade had 17 pumps and numbered just under 200 Fire Policemen. The planned Liverpool AFS would have over 4,000 personnel manning what was first planned as around 300 pumps later increased to 400. So the scale of the logistics and of the training programme to these citizen firemen for duty can be imagined. Uniforms were at first a boiler suit, tin helmet and a pair of Wellington boots and even these did not come until 1939. Until then men used their own clothes.

AFS Morris Auxiliary Towing Vehicle Mathew Arnold School.
Aux Towing Vehicle Mathew Arnold School.

A 60 hour training programme was however prescribed by the Home Office which in Liverpool was delivered mainly from three requisitioned centres at Forth Street, Bankhall, St Ann Street and Jordan Street.

The peak strength of the Liverpool AFS was, in April 1941 with 2,682 full time and 2,061 part time men and women.

Extracts from the records of the Liverpool Auxiliary Fire Service for 1938
FEBRUARY - The Chief Officer of the Liverpool Fire Brigade instructed his District Officers to find accommodation for the housing of the expected Government issue pumps for the AFS pumps. The instructions, for estimating purposes were that a shed or garage which could house a large car was required, No heed was given that men would be on duty here and the need for sleeping accommodation or messing facilities. A detailed record of accommodation was, however, also compiled.

MARCH 29 - 100 of the 4,000 personnel required had enrolled; the Salvage Corps volunteered its 44 members.

ALSO IN MARCH - Report to Liverpool Watch Committee [WC] showed the sites for 20 auxiliary stations had been selected. The plan was for eight of the regular Brigade’s pumps to stay at their stations, the other eight would be dispersed to eight of the new stations.

A total of 12 AFS Heavy Units would be required for the remaining 12 auxiliary stations
JUNE 7 - WC advised that the Corporation now owned the lease on the St Anne Sreett Drill hall at £300 per annum (pa). AFS training would be undertaken there. Hatton Garden, which was then being used, was not suitable, as training had to be suspended in inclement weather.

ALSO IN JUNE - WC approved £500 to fund the AFS efficiency bonus for completing training.

JULY 12 - WC met, the Air Raid Precautions had rented the disused TA barracks at Low Hill (St Anne St) to store gas masks. Only one of the two drill halls was, however, required. The second one could be used to store fire engines.

AFS Botanic Road, 1940.
AFS Botanic Road, 1940.

357 AFS Sector Posts were planned in the City and 25 more on the Docks each to be equipped with a trailer pump making 382 in all. There were now to be 30 Auxiliary fire stations.

NOVEMBER 3 - The first 147 men passed out in a ceremony at St Anne Street Barracks, None had uniforms which, Chief Officer Oakes requested the uniforms should be issued as soon as possible and Alderman Cross agreed to do everything to expedite this.

DECEMBER - By now just 186 men had enrolled.

By 1941 there were 132 AFS stations across Liverpool in schools, garages or housed in purpose built timber sheds.

Elsewhere Southport had seven AFS stations, Formby just one, Hoylake and West Kirby eight, Huyton with Roby two and the Wirral UDC, covering Heswall had five.

Apart from 40 or so self propelled pumps the remaining 430 in Liverpool were trailer pumps which needed a vehicle to tow them. This ratio of pumps was typical across Merseyside. Whilst a grant was offered to the councils to buy up suitable cars and lorries the amount which could be paid was so low that many of the vehicles proved to have been in poor repair and there was a shortage of mechanics to keep them in service and "on the run". Not until the Government drafted in Army tradesmen was this problem solved. Whilst purpose built Towing Vehicles were on order most did not arrive in time to make a difference during the Blitz on Merseyside. Thus it was quite typical for 505 to be awaiting repairs and unavailable. This left many AFS crews having to manhandle their pumps.

It was the AFS who provided over 90% of the personnel who fought the Blitz fires and 67 Firemen and one Liverpool Auxiliary Fire Service Boy Messanger made the ultimate sacrifice in 1940 and 1941, several coming from well outside the Region brought in as re-enforcements during the worst of the bombing. A Roll of Honour which names these individuals and remembers them can be seen at the Heritage and Education Centre.
Merseyside Blitz .

The bombing of the UK had highlighted shortcomings in arrangements for fighting. With more than1,600 separate Brigades in existance, most also with their own AFS personnel, meant that there was no chance of standardisation in procedures, drills and other areas. It would often happen that an appliance from a Brigade only 20 miles away from where it was sent to help would find, on arrival, that the screw fittings on his hose, standpipes or other equipment, differed from the host who used instantaneous couplings and so were useless.

There was indeed a national lack of standardisation in appliances, hose connections, drills and even ranks and their markings.

There was, on occasions a reluctance to allow the professional fireman to leave their Brigade area as councils considered that the ratepayers had paid for a service which should not be put at risk. Thus the less well trained and, initially, inexperienced, AFS were often sent.

The obvious shortcomings in the national arrangements for firefighting saw pressure begin to mount for more co-ordination and several influential parties pressed for nationalisation. The Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison MP, convened a meeting on April 18, 1941, just before the worst of Liverpool’s air raids. Those in attendance were Cdr A. Firebrace, Sir George Gater, Sir Arthur Dixon and Mr Morrison himself. It was in major part the recommendations from this meeting which led to the drafting of a bill to create a National Fire Service. The proposal was approved by the War Cabinet on May 8.

A Nationalised Service

AFS Auxiliary Towing Vehicle NFS, 1941.
AFS Auxiliary Towing Vehicle NFS, 1941.

No 1134 Fire Services (Emergency Provisions) Act 1941
This passed through Parliament on May 20 and was given Royal Assent on May 22, establishing a National Fire Service [ NFS] from August 18.The NFS structure to be based upon the existing regional civil defence structure with 12 matching regions. Local authorities had to pay 75% of the cost of their regular brigade. Those who had no brigade were assessed at 75% of a two penny rate.
The Country was divided into 12 regions  which were in turn comprised of Fire Force Areas. Within the region were four Fire Force Areas.
No 26 Fire Force: HQ ‘Holly Mount’, Mill Lane, West Derby, Liverpool 12
No 27 Fire Force:  HQ London Road fire station later Moseley Hall, Cheadle
No 28 Fire Force:  HQ Bolton Fire Station
No 29 Fire Force:  HQ ‘Hazelmere’, Fulwood, Preston            
Fire Force No 26 was commanded by a former London Fire Brigade Officer Charters. Its area covered the following local authorities, numbers in brackets are the pre war fire stations each had:
Liverpool City (9), Birkenhead CB (2), Bootle CB, Chester City (1), St Helens CB (1), Southport CB(1), Wallasey CB(1), Warrington CB & RDC(1), Bebington B, Congleton B & RDC(1), Crewe B(1), Crosby B (2), Widnes Borough (1), Alsager UDC, Ellesmere Port UDC, Formby UDC (1), Haydock UDC, Hoole UDC, Hoylake UDC(1), Huyton with Roby UDC(1), Litherland UDC, Middlewich UDC (1),, Nantwich UDC & RDC(1) , Neston UDC, Newton le Willows UDC(1), Northwich UDC & RDC (1),  , Ormskirk UDC(1), Prescot UDC(1), Rainford UDC , Runcorn UDC & RDC(1) , Sandbach UDC (1) , Tarvin RDC(1), Winsford UDC (1), Wirral UDC (1), West Lancs RDC (1), Whiston RDC (1) 
Fire Force 26 was made up of 11 Divisions, four of which covered Liverpool with no less than 208 stations a huge increase on the pare war position. Well over 700 pumps were manned.
Other HQ and Support facilities were established

1. HQ and Stores

Mill Lane off Queens Drive four large houses were requisitioned
`Uplands` - Formerly an AFS station now D Div HQ1
`Holly Lodge` - Area Stores Office
`The Bingle`- Finance office in huts as the house had been hit by a stray bomb and then demolished.
`Sand Heys` - Formerly an AFS station, now Comms with the Field           
Telephone Office in grounds of Holly Lodge School  in an outbuilding.  

2. Transport Offices
On the other side of Mill Lane.

3. Training Schools
The Police school on Beacon Lane was initially used along with the AFS site in the Deaf School, Melville Place. Both closed. The former was then used as a hose repair shop.

October 1941 - A new school was established in the Seaman’s Orphanage, Newsham Park for males and on Croxteth Drive Aigburth for females.

1942 - A second Area training school was established in a school on School La, Culcheth. Used to give refresher training not for basic recruits..

March 1942 - FFC A P L Sullivan MM MBE ex London Fire Brigade took over as Fire Force Commander.

January 1943 - FFC J Clitherow, ex FFC No 29 Area the son-in-law of the former Liverpool Fire Brigade Chief Officer George Oakes took over from Sullivan who returned to London as Deputy Chief of Fire Staff and Deputy Inspector in Chief of the NFS.

Also during 1943 - All training was regionalised at St Joseph’s, Stockport Rd, Longsight Manchester, formerly an industrial school. From February 1946 an eight week course for permanent firemen commenced.

4. Workshops
Lobito’s Garage, Lancelot’s Hey [Lobito’s Oil Co owned the Ellesmere Port refinery, the company was bought by Burmah in 1962] taken over in late1940 for the AFS, this passed to the LPFB and then to the NFS in 1941
A Workshop was established on Fazakerley St until at least 1943
The Lancashire Utd bus garage on Bentley Road was taken over as a Workshops and Transport Store.

5. Reinforcement Bases also referred to as RV points
Established for re-enforcements coming into the city to avoid the previous problems whereby crews had got lost as they had no Liverpool street maps. 4 at first by 10/41 there were five.
1.         SE       Clarke’s Gardens, Woolton (the pub in the park).
2.         E         Court Hey, Broadgreen.
3.         N         Students Union, Bedford Street, Bootle.
4.         C         Deaf School, No 2 Melville Place.
5.         N         Fazakerley Open Air School.

6. Accommodation Department
A hostel for the growing number of firewomen was established at 7 Linnet Lane.

7. Building Departments
Ivanhoe Rd, Liverpool
Church St, Warrington
Canning St Birkenhead

September 20, 1942 - National Fire Service (Alteration of Fire Areas) Regulations 1942:
Three new Fire Force Areas created, one of these took over part of FF26 Area
This was Fire Force 41HQ ‘Thelwell Heyes’, Grapenhall, Warrington
Its Commander was W Ewart Greenhalgh. It covered St Helens CB, Warrington CB, Congleton, Crewe, Alsager, Middlewich, Nantwich,   Northwich, Runcorn, Sandbach, Tarvin, Winsford, Haydock, Newton-le-Willows, Prescot, Rainford, Whiston and  Widnes 68 stations.

March 22, 1944 - Fire Services (Alteration of Fire Areas) (No3) Regulations 1944 published Fire Forces 28, 41, 42 & 43 were now to be combined into the remaining FF Areas.

March 25 - Changes enacted ahead of the movement of many NFS personnel to the South coast in to provide fire cover for the munitions and stores stockpiled for the invasion of Europe, known as the Colours Scheme
Fire Force 26 now comprised 198 stations organised in 8 Divisions, 70 from the former FF 41.

April 15, 1945 - With the end of the war in Europe the stand-down of the part time personnel in the NFS took place.

July 1, 1945 - Number of stations in FF26 reduced to 63.

March 31, 1948 - Stations by now reduced to 42, NFS stood down at midnight with the return to local authority control.

1Report to WC 27 Sep 1938 ‘Uplands’ at Holly Lodge School to be demolished, building still standing 2009

About Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Heritage and Education Centre


Merseyside has a 180-year proud tradition of firefighting and has often been at the forefront of innovation and new technology during that time.

The service has memorabilia, machines and equipment from generations of firefighting and one of the largest photographic archives of any UK fire and rescue service including more than 80,000 digitised files and pictures. Why not visit our Heritage and Education Centre.

more about the Heritage Centre

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