The Second Auxilary Fire Service 1949 - 1968

AFS ATV Austin.
AFS ATV Austin.
In 1949 only a year after the Fire Service in the UK had returned to local authority control it was apparent with the first explosion by Soviet Russia of a nuclear device that the UK would be facing a new and deadly threat as the Cold War began. The Civil Defence Act had already been passed the previous December.

The possibility now existed of the UK becoming a target and being struck by a number of nuclear warheads which would cause massive destruction and huge fires It was to seek to try and counter this threat, to an extent at least that the AFS was reformed, again run by individual brigades but now with much more uniformity and central control / funding as part of a much wider Civil Defence programme.

AFS Kirkdale HQ - DO Mansell.
AFS Kirkdale HQ - DO Mansell.
The aim was that Brigades should recruit 2 AFS personnel for every whole time fireman on their establishment or one for every retained member and that a total of 100 Columns should be capable of being manned. It was estimated the AFS would need 55,000 personnel, in the event it never reached anything like that number as recruiting and retention proved to be extremely difficult.

Each Mobile Column would be self sufficient having not only large capacity pumps but catering and support vehicles, tests were carried out and new vehicles designed and ordered in quantity.

In 1954 Russia exploded a thermonuclear bomb which vastly increased the threat. Instead of the radius of damage being around 1 mile it was now 20 miles with disruption on such a scale being countenanced and with the associated dangers from radiation it is perhaps not surprising that 5 years after it was reformed the AFS had a strength of just 15,000.

Dispatch rider.
Dispatch rider.
Eventually over 1,000 Bedford Emergency pumps along with hose laying lorries, Transportable Water Units known as ‘Bikinis’, Mobile Kitchens, Pipe Layers, Communications vehicles and many more were delivered to the AFS.
The size of a Column was eventually 144 vehicles which included 30 Emergency Pumps the famed ‘Green Goddesses’ and 38 motor cycles split between 5 Companies and having 15 miles of hose.

Recruits had to undergo Phase 1 training for 60 hours - completed in 2hr sections before they were considered to be on the trained strength this was followed by Phase 2. Crews were given the opportunity to attend fire alongside the professional brigade they were attached to, so as to gain experience, but whilst they received a small bounty the AFS was not paid.

Green Goddess.
Green Goddess.
So on Merseyside the 9 Brigades each ran a section or sections of the AFS, Lancashire County were responsible for single pump units at Huyton, Newton-le-Willows, Rainford, Kirkby and Whiston. Whilst at Crosby a pump, hose layer and a utility vehicle were manned.

Over in Cheshire County they had a unit at Bebington with a purpose built separate fire station with 2 pumps and 2 motor cycles.

Birkenhead had 2 Emergency Pumps, a Control Unit, 2 motor bikes for despatch riders and 2 Land Rover Communication Vehicles, while Southport had 3 Pumps as well as a Pipe Carrier. Bootle also had 3 Pumps along with a Bikini unit.
The largest contingent was in Liverpool but even here despite numerous recruiting campaigns the peak strength was only 314 reached in 1964. In 1967 the Liverpool fleet comprised of 6 Pumps, a Bikini unit, Hose Layer, Pipe Carrier, Control Unit, 2 Communications Vehicles, 4 Motor Bikes as well as a Command Car and several Personnel Carriers.

Exercise Bomburst.
Exercise Bomburst.
By 1967 AFS detachments were co-located at 7 Liverpool Fire Brigade stations as well as at the AFS manned East Princes Dk, HQ was at Belvidere Road
Additionally Parkfield Rd garages and Ivanhoe Rd were used to store equipment and vehicles.

Regular exercises were carried out with deployments made across the UK to test the skills of the men and women in the operation of a self contained Mobile Column.
The lack of manpower was however always a problem and the Government drew up plans to use Servicemen to fill the gap, establishing training schools at Washington Hall near Chorley and at Moreton in marsh, Gloucestershire.

Eventually as a cost saving measure the AFS was stood down in 1968 although much of their equipment went into store and was in use by the Military providing cover during disputes over 30 years later

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

Opening Times

The Heritage Centre is open to the Public Monday to Friday between 10.00 and 15.00.

It is essential that visits are pre-booked, preferably by telephone or email.

Tel: 0151 296 4714 / 4640


For reception staff if members of the public arrive at reception to visit the Heritage Centre without pre-booking please phone the centre to check staff are available.

The Heritage and Education centre is located at; Bridle Road, Bootle, L30 4YD