"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

August 29, 2006

REMEMBERING WAR

UPDATED JANUARY 2008
Firefighters' Memorial

(Photo: LFB web site)

The men and women of London's fire service played a crucial role in the war, with a total of 327 members of the London Fire Service - both regulars and auxiliary - dying in action and more than 3,000 suffering serious injuries.

On Sept. 11, 2005, a Service of Remembrance honored the ``resilience, determination and selfless heroism of firefighters during the war,'' according to a press release from the London Fire Brigade. Following the service, a procession including vintage emergency vehicles traveled from the church for a ceremony at the Firefighters National Memorial, opposite St. Paul's Cathedral - which firefighters saved from the German raiders.

London Fire Commissioner Ken Knight said: "The fire defence of the capital was under enormous strain during the Blitz and the story of firefighters during this time is one of selfless heroism. This is an important event that remembers their sacrifices, as well as the innocent victims of those dark days. As a brigade, we are immensely proud of the achievements of those firefighters who worked tirelessly to protect Londoners during wartime."

According to the History Channel:

``On the evening of December 29, 1940, London suffers its most devastating air raid when Germans firebomb the city. Hundreds of fires caused by the exploding bombs engulfed areas of London, but firefighters showed a valiant indifference to the bombs falling around them and saved much of the city from destruction. The next day, a newspaper photo of St. Paul's Cathedral standing undamaged amid the smoke and flames seemed to symbolize the capital's unconquerable spirit during the Battle of Britain. The ability of Londoners to maintain their composure had much to do with Britain's survival during the dark years of World War II. As American journalist Edward R. Murrow reported, Not once have I heard a man, woman, or child suggest that Britain should throw her hand.''


TIME MAGAZINE
Monday, Sept. 23, 1940
"They Are a Miracle"

As German bombers continued their efforts to burn down London, not a few superbly sunny-sided Britons last week harked back to Sir Christopher Wren and the Great Fire of 1666.

Sir Christopher, whose greatest architectural monument is St. Paul's Cathedral, which so far has enjoyed a number of narrow escapes from Nazi bombs, laid plans to rebuild London as a city of broad avenues and noble vistas such as Paris and Washington are today. Sir Christopher's grandest ideas were ignored, but last week it seemed that no matter who wins the Battle of Britain, future years may see a vastly improved and reconstructed London rising out of much present ruin and debris. Economist John Maynard Keynes figures, perhaps optimistically, that up to this week German bombers had destroyed no more than Londoners have the means to rebuild in a year.

Last week the average Londoner had a new hero as glamorous as Tommy Atkins: the British fireman.

Members of the London Fire Brigade and of the Auxiliary Fire Service could no longer work in shifts last week. German incendiary bombs were falling too thick and fast, so the workers averaged 20 hours of fire fighting every day, snatched cat naps and quick gulps of food washed down by tea served hot in buckets right on the blazing job.

In the Express, owned by Aircraft Production Minister Baron Beaverbrook, slick Columnist John MacAdam shamefacedly wrote of the Auxiliary Fire Service that before the Blitzkrieg began "we used to smile a little at them sometimes. 'The spit and polish firemen,' some people called them and there were others who used to talk about 'three pounds ten a week for playing darts.' The A. F. S. took it all with a shrug—in much the same way as they now take the chorus of inner "Thank God for the A. F. S.' . . . There never was a force in the history of service that had a more terrible baptism of fire."

The A. F. S. consists of people of all classes, butchers and baronets, clerks and cooks, lawyers and liverymen. "I used to sell gramophone records," volunteered a fire-truck driver whom the Nazis have kept so busy that he has grown a beard for lack of time to shave. "Funny how a beard gives you a hand with the girls," he added. "I've a good mind to keep it as a permanent fixture."

The regular staff of the London Fire Brigade numbers 2,500 and these professional fire fighters were generous last week in praise of the unprofessional A. F. S., who number over 25,000 men and 5,000 women. "When you consider that most of these fellows have never been near a bigger fire than their sitting-room grate, they are a miracle," boomed a Brigade officer. "Our men are hardbitten, experienced fighters and they trust the A. F. S. boys to the hilt."

It was commonplace last week for London fire fighters to go right on with their work in burning buildings while the next Nazi load of incendiary bombs was being brought up at full throttle. Only when these actually began to fall did firemen take cover, not in air-raid shelters but simply by jumping for the nearest doorway or partial shelter. One elderly woman, so paralyzed by fear that she was unable to go to a shelter, found herself watching the firemen, began brewing them a bucket of tea.

London has 31,438 fire hydrants, 3,000 grey A. F. S. pumps, 130 red L. F. B. fire engines, 67 miles of hose and 1,800 street alarms. The bell-clanging fire engines are the only London vehicles permitted to dash through a red light (police cars urgently requiring to go through a red light must slacken speed sufficiently to go up on the pavement and "go round red"). The Brigade takes its own films of big London fires, using the films to instruct young firemen, selling the best footage to British newsreels.

Most spectacular London Fire Brigade exploit of World War II was when one of their Thames River fire-fighting floats was borrowed by the British Admiralty for use in extinguishing fires at Dunkirk during the B. E. F. evacuation. The Brigade flatly refused to let the Admiralty man their float with British sailors unused to fire fighting, sent a regular crew of London firemen over on the float to Dunkirk. There they found the fires out of control, spent six days rescuing 1,200 troops and floated them safe home across the Channel.

June 06, 2006

MOORGATE DISASTER

UPDATED JANUARY 2008



Photos and diagram: British Medical Journal and BBC

On Feb. 28, 1975, more than 40 people died when a train - arriving at the Moorgate Underground station from Drayton Park - overshot the platform and crashed into a dead-end tunnel during the morning rush hour. The last survivor wasn't freed from the carnage of ``the 8:37'' until evening.

``If there's a hell, I've lived to see it,'' a doctor was quoted as saying.

On the 25th anniversary of the wreck, Peter Woodman of the Press Association wrote that the rescue and recovery went on for six days, with more than 1,300 firefighters, 240 police officers, 80 ambulance attendants and 16 physicians ``on the spot'' - along with hospital staff and volunteer services.

The six-car train was built in 1938, and operated a two-and-a-half mile shuttle from Drayton Park, calling at Highbury and Essex Road stations, Woodman wrote. It slammed into the 5 foot thick wall at speed - roughly 35-40 mph.

Rescuers spoke of the ``raw courage'' of Policewoman Margaret Liles, 19, a passenger in the first carriage, who was freed after more than 12 hours - after doctors amputated one of her feet.

Conditions in the tunnel tested the emergency services. "The air is so bad that the doctors have decreed that everybody working down there must wear breathing masks," said a police spokesman, quoted by the Yorkshire Post.

Among the dead was train driver Leslie Newson, 55.

Known as careful and conscientious, Newson ``had been in good health and had not taken any alcohol or drugs, and was considered an unlikely suicide candidate,'' the BBC said.

The cause of the Moorgate disaster remains a mystery. ``Nothing was wrong with the train, the signalling equipment or the track, '' according to the BBC, though London Underground introduced new safety measures after the wreck.

____

British Medical Journal - June 3, 2000

Railway signals passed at danger: psychology matters

Glin Bennet, formerly senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist

Bristol

Seventy five per cent, eighty per cent. Over the years this is the seemingly unvarying proportion of transport accidents ascribed to human factors. Investigations are meticulous, the engineers take care to see that every nut and bolt is studied, yet so often the conclusion is the same: “human failure.”

This seems to be accepted as an explanation, and with it the matter can be closed. For any psychiatrist, reports of odd behaviour, such as driving a car or a train through a red light, are merely the beginning of an investigation, a warning that there may be problems below the surface.

In the aftermath of the Paddington rail disaster in October 1999, attention has been focused on signalling systems, and rightly so. The assumption seems to be that if the signals and points can all be made reliable then accidents should cease. But that does not explain the 600 or so signals passed at danger each year in the United Kingdom.

There is nothing new in all this, as Professor R A Cocks has pointed out (BMJ 1999;319:1018-9). In the 1940s and 1950s the late Professor Derek Russell Davis published research on the human factors which lead to accidents. His researches into rail incidents, usually signals passed at danger, were made with the full cooperation of British Rail, and in private interviews drivers spoke openly to him about their behaviour in the accidents, their anxieties, and distracting worries.

In my own studies of small boat sailors, airline pilots, train drivers, and motorists, numerous examples emerged of psychological processes which can lead to accidents. For example, seeing the signal that you want to see, in the colour that you want, not what is actually there (Lewisham train disaster, 1957—90 dead; Norton Fitzwarren, 1940—27 dead; perhaps also Harrow and Wealdstone, 1952—112 dead). Sailors can misread lights in the same way.

Preoccupation with matters remote from the scene may account for some of the 600. At the Hayward's Heath accident in 1973 the driver misread the signals and drove his loopline train on to the main line and it was struck from behind by an express. This driver was reported as going through a divorce at the time, had financial worries, and a stomach ulcer. In November 1981 the driver of a commuter train was involved in a collision from misreading the signals. He was evidently dosing himself with pain killing drugs for an aching wisdom tooth, his wife had just given birth to their first child, and his mother was suffering from cancer.

The Moorgate underground train disaster in 1975, 43 killed, was never satisfactorily explained, or possibly was never satisfactorily investigated. The medical experts involved gave speculative diagnoses that the driver (who was killed) was suffering from “akinesis with mutism” or “transient global amnesia.” I know nothing of these as acute conditions, but I would have wanted to inquire more into the unfortunate driver's circumstances.

The reports of inquiries that I have read tended to be chaired by military men, with a robust approach to mechanical detail and not much interest in psychological processes. There is also the subtle British resistance to looking into the psychological process of others, because of the unspoken acknowledgment from so doing that you might have a vulnerable psyche yourself, and that would not do. Fortunately, the drivers of most rail incidents survive, unlike their colleagues in the air, and so there is a real opportunity to learn about the causes of the 75% or 80% of transport accidents. In fact the railways are excellent laboratories for such studies, and they have a relevance to all modes of transport.

Improvements in signalling and track are important, of course, but the drivers are also important. These people can confound safety devices when they fall victim to adverse psychological processes, and if we are not going to opt for driverless trains we need to understand more about the drivers.

February 17, 2006

PERSONALITIES

UPDATED NOVEMBER 2008

HARRY ERRINGTON


Photo of Auxiliary Fireman Errington

The Times - Obituary - 2001

IN THE winter of 1940-41 there was some diversion of attacks by the Luftwaffe away from London to the industrial cities and ports, with the purpose of disrupting war production and the supply of produce from abroad. But a theory that the British public could be bombed or terrorised into surrender still persisted in some elements of the German high command. In consequence the capital seldom had more than two or three nights in succession without an air raid, most of which delivered a mix of high explosive and incendiary bombs on Central London, the Docklands and the East End.

The fire services were not overwhelmed simply because the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) of volunteer firemen had been established before the war and significantly expanded when conflict came. Many of the voluntary firemen worked at their normal jobs by day — in banks, offices or shops — and reported to their stations for duty each evening. Harry Errington was just such a man: the master cutter for a Savile Row tailor by day and a fireman by night.

During a raid on London in early 1941, he and two other auxiliary firemen had taken temporary shelter in the basement of a building only for it to receive a direct hit. Errington was initially stunned but, on recovering his senses, he found the rooms above on fire and his two comrades trapped beneath the debris of the partly fallen ground floor. He had no tools beyond a fireman’s axe but set to work to dig out the two men with his bare hands.

The task appeared near hopeless and he was driven back by the heat of the fire above, before he was able to free either of them. Finding and soaking a blanket, he wrapped it round his head and shoulders and returned to heaving the debris aside while the building creaked and groaned above him as the fire took a fiercer hold. Freeing his comrades at last, he turned to the stone stairway which — though filled with smoke — led to the relative safety of the street. Neither man could stand, much less walk, so Errington dragged each of them to the foot of the stairway, then carried them in turn on his back up the stairway and clear of the burning building.

All three recovered, miraculously sustaining no serious burns or injury. The two trapped by the fallen debris would have been burnt or crushed to death but for Errington’s persistent and courageous determination to free them, despite the risk to his own life. One of the men saved was a solicitor who, as Sir John Terry, served as managing director of the National Film Finance Corporation 1958-78.

For his gallantry in saving the lives of his two comrades, Harry Errington was awarded the George Cross in August 1941. This decoration had been instituted by King George VI in 1940 specifically to recognise acts of conspicuous gallantry in circumstances of extreme danger by civilians, or by members of the Armed Services when not in the immediate presence of the enemy. The award ranks with the Victoria Cross, awarded for valour in battle, and is worn before all other decorations except the VC.

Errington continued to serve with the AFS until the end of the war, as the V1 flying bomb menace and the silent V2 rockets threatened London and southeast England well into 1945, and fire often following their impact and explosion.

Harry Errington was born in London in 1910. His Polish parents, Soloman and Bella Ehregott, coincidently lived in Poland Street, Westminster. They had arrived from Lublin in 1908 and anglicised the family name to Errington when Harry was born.

He was educated at the Westminster Free School and won a trade scholarship to train as an engraver. The nitric acid used in the engraving process affected his chest, or at least his mother believed that to be the case, so he went to train as cutter under his uncle who was an established “out-door tailor” with several contracts in Savile Row. He remained in the business until retirement.

He had a lifelong interest in basketball and coached the amateur team from Regent Street Polytechnic, which was prominent in the English amateur competition in the years shortly after the war, winning the national competition on at least one occasion. He became involved in managing the basketball competition in the Olympic Games held in London in 1948. In later years, he became vice-chairman of the United Kingdom Amateur Basketball Association and, later, a life vice-president, travelling as far afield with the team as Canada, Iceland, Russia and Poland.

Having once, as a young man, accidently invited two girls to be his guest at the same basketball final in London, he decided that romance was a chancy affair — and remained unmarried.

(Born Aug. 20,1910, Errington died Dec. 15, 2004 at age 94.)

_____

SIR FREDERICK DELVE

Independent - Obituary - 1995

Frederick Delve, for 14 years Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade, was an outstanding figure in the world of fire. His 92 years spanned the part of a century remarkable for its increase in fire hazards and in developing the essential services for dealing with them.

"Freddy" Delve was the son of a Brighton master tailor. His parents' plans for his education were shattered in 1918 when an over-patriotic "flapper" on Brighton sea-front mistook the tall, blond teenager for an older man dodging military service, and pinned a white feather to his lapel. To his parents' distress, he joined the Royal Navy on his 16th birthday. The war ended two weeks later.

Resigned to Service life, Delve became a wireless telegraphist. His ship was sent to the Black Sea to evacuate the British Military Missions as the Red Army overran the ports there and for the first time he became aware of the importance of good communications.

In 1922 Delve left the Navy, and joined the Brighton Fire Brigade. By 1929 he had passed a series of technical examinations with distinction, been commended for two particularly courageous rescues and promoted at the age of 27 to Second Officer - the youngest in Britain. He moved to the prestigious Croydon Fire Brigade as Chief Officer in 1934 and under his leadership they became the first in the country to install radio communications between all appliances and HQ.

It was from Croydon that he led his brigade to the legendary Crystal Palace fire in 1936. There, he said, "for the first time I saw firemen turning their brass helmets back to front to protect their faces from the searing heat." It was there too that he developed the skill which was to become vitally important during the Blitz, of relaying hose over long distances and, if necessary, uphill from the water sources to the fires.

Delve was one of a small group of young, dedicated senior fire officers who had been pressing the Government to take seriously the threat of firebombing in any future war. It was not until after the air attack on civilians in Guernica during the Spanish Civil War that, in 1937, the Home Office set up a committee, on which Delve served, to advise on changes in the fire service in Britain which, at that time, comprised more than 1,660 different brigades, most with equipment incompatible with neighbouring forces. The ensuing Fire Brigade Act of 1938 established the Auxiliary Fire Service and, for the first time, admitted women to the brigades.

As war started he became Deputy Inspector-in-Chief of Fire Services and when the enemy began their saturation raids on Britain's cities he travelled to their aid with help, advice and, if necessary, support from neighbouring brigades or the armed services.

The heroism of the Blitz firefighters could not hide the deficiencies of their equipment and organisation and Delve was, again, among those who persuaded the Government to establish the National Fire Service in 1942. Soon afterwards he was appointed Chief Officer of No 5 Region - the whole London area including its 70 craft of the River Thames Formation which he delighted in equipping with radio-communication. It was to prove essential in their work protecting the fleet of support vessels which packed the Thames Estuary, laden with explosives and ammunition, awaiting D-Day.

When the RAF began their intensive campaign against enemy cities, Delve was among the fire chiefs who advised on how to achieve optimum results from fire bombing. Soon he was protecting London from the onslaught of V1 and V2 rockets.

After the war, when the NFS was disbanded, Delve remained in London as Chief Officer of the re-formed London Fire Brigade where he dealt with the many new problems, including tower blocks, increasingly difficult traffic accidents and the dangers of moving hazardous materials across the capital. He replaced the old street fire alarm posts with the "999" system, modernised the fleet of fire appliances and began a rebuilding scheme for fire stations.

He was the first Chief Officer of the LFB to be knighted in office and, on his retirement in 1962, joined the board of Securicor. He never ceased to grieve for his wife, who died after 56 years of happy marriage.

(Frederick William Delve, fire officer: born 28 October 1902; Chief Officer, Croydon Fire Brigade 1934-41; Deputy Inspector in Chief, National Fire Service 1941-43; CBE 1942; Chief Officer, London Fire Brigade 1948-62; Kt 1962; married 1924 Ethel Morden (died 1980); died 2 October 1995.)

_____

JACK BRIDLE

Independent - Obituary - 1999

JACK BRIDLE had a long and distinguished career as a fireman from 1931 to 1963, which embraced the temporary nationalisation of the country's various fire brigades during the Second World War.

He was "born under a hose-cart", the son of a fireman at the busy Shaftesbury Avenue station of the London Fire Brigade in 1907, when a fireman's working week was 144 hours; when he joined in 1931 Bridle's hours were still half that. Even so there was no shortage of recruits, and to improve his chances of following his father into the brigade, he had joined the Army in 1924. After six years in the Royal Engineers he qualified as an Instructor at the Command School in Alexandria and had to resist the temptation of a commission and an appointment to the Army Education College at Shorncliffe.

After joining the London Fire Brigade, he made rapid progress through the junior ranks and by 1939, within eight years, was one of the 130 District Officers, from whom the 20 Superintendents were selected. The threat of war had increased promotion prospects; a new rank of Chief Superintendent had been introduced. But there was no national fire service; fire prevention and fire-fighting were the responsibility of local authorities, and some ran their brigades as an extra division of their police force. Others took a more enlightened and professional approach, and kept them separate.

Yet, despite a recent Royal Commission there was no responsibility for local authorities to co-operate with one another, and a distinct and almost aggressive parochialism prevailed. The new Auxiliary Fire Service of 1938 was by no means the single body that its name suggests; the constituent pumps and personnel were essentially auxiliary to one of the multiplicity of local brigades. At government level such planning that was possible was in the hands of the Police and Fire Brigade Division of the Home Office, their hands strengthened by their administration of government grants for additional equipment, which included German turntable ladders.

In 1939 the Home Secretary decided that his office must do what it could to provide some centralising influence, and augmented his tiny Inspectorate of Fire Brigades, largely by asking the London County Council to second a small but powerful cadre. The Chief Officer himself, so felicitously named Firebrace, led a team of 14 of which Bridle was one; he was assigned to the West Midlands. It was here that he distinguished himself in 1940 by advocating a mobilising procedure of the London Fire Brigade. Instead of leaving machines in their own stations if they were not ordered to a fire, the LFB had a procedure based on three standard messages - if the incident could be dealt with by local resources, the officer in charge made a home call; if greater strength was needed, a district call brought in appliances from further afield, and if things got worse a brigade call mobilised the entire brigade.

District and brigade calls meant that stations near the fire were reinforced from within the brigade so that cover was maintained over the entire area, even though many of the mobilised machines might not be sent to the incident. This proven procedure meant that time was saved in concentrating reinforcements where they were needed. There was another precedent of which the Home Office and a London officer would have been aware, based on the 1917 plan whereby London and most if not all the adjacent brigades gave one another mutual support in mobilising against the first air raids on this country. Thus to say that Bridle's plans clashed with a Home Office doctrine that represented the autonomy of local authorities by leaving a concentration of local appliances at their native stations and summoning - or requesting - reinforcements from further afield is perhaps something of an exaggeration.

How much operational responsibility was given to seconded officers is not always clear, but Bridle was called to account by the legendary A.L. (later Sir Arthur) Dixon, a Cambridge wrangler who had entered the Home Office in 1903 and was then an assistant under- secretary in the Police and Fire Brigade department. But nationalisation of the 1,600 various fire brigades was strategically essential in wartime, and in 1941 they were reconstituted as a single National Fire Service of 39 Fire Forces. Bridle at 34 was by far the youngest of the Fire Force Commanders, and it is significant that he was appointed OBE the next year.

His first command was of 23 Area, which covered Warwickshire and the West Midlands; in 1943 he was given the larger command of 4 Area, based at Leeds. Thereafter he saw little of the war on the Home Front and, when it ended and the National Fire Service was restored to the counties and boroughs of the day, he ended his fire-fighting career as Chief Fire Officer of West Sussex from 1948. In 1963 he retired to Guernsey.

(Alfred John Bridle, fire-fighter: born London 30 June 1907; OBE 1942; married 1936 Eva Talbot (two sons); died St Peter Port, Guernsey 27 January 1999.)

_____

CYRIL DEMARNE

The Times - Obituary - 2007

Cyril Demarne was a sub officer in the West Ham Fire Brigade instructing the Auxiliary Fire Service when war was declared. On the the first day of the London Blitz, September 7, 1940, he recalled a "lovely sunny day. There were about 300 German aircraft. Some flew along the waterfront from North Woolwich to the tidal basin and bombed the big factories. [They] had thousands of people in them and there were horrendous casualties."

Three miles of the waterfront became a continuous blaze, and Demarne ordered 500 pumps to the scene. The commander thought this exaggerated and sent someone down to see. The man reported back that 1,000 engines were needed.

There followed 57 consecutive nights of air raids, a night off for bad weather, then they resumed until May 10, 1941. On continuous duty, the AFS tackled fires and dug the dead and injured from the rubble.

In October 1941 Demarne was appointed company officer at Whitechapel in the new National Fire Service. In 1944 he went back to West Ham as divisional officer and was later transferred to the City and Central London where he was involved in three of the worst V2 incidents with more than 300 people killed.

Cyril Thomas Demarne was born in Poplar in 1905. He joined the Fire Service in 1925 and after the war had two years service in the West End before being promoted to chief fire officer West Ham. In 1952 he was appointed OBE.

Retiring from the Fire Service in 1955, he moved to Aus-tralia and was senior instructor of the Fire Service Training School at Sydney airport until 1964. He also developed the Norfolk Island and Papua New Guinea aviation fire departments and set up and ran the safety centre at Beirut airport until his retirement in 1967.

He published his memoirs, The Blitz - A Fireman's Tale (1980) and Our Girls: A Story of the Nation's Wartime Firewom-en (1995). He contributed to The Blitz Then and Now (1987) book series and appeared in several TV documentaries.

Demarne was married in 1930. His wife died in 1986, and he leaves two daughters.

(Cyril Demarne, OBE, fire officer, was born on February 7, 1905. He died on January 28, 2007, aged 101)

January 17, 2006

KEY DATES


From London Fire Brigade web site

63AD Vigiles appointed to look out for fires at night by Roman Emperor, Augustus.

440 After the Romans’ departure, no organised fire service for over 120 years.

1212 London Bridge burnt down. This was known as Great Fire of London until 1666. Allegedly 12,000 people died, although this figure could have been exaggerated.

1556 Act of Parliament laid down that ‘Bellmen’ should be appointed to walk the streets at night to raise alarm if fire spotted.


1666 Great Fire of London. 13,200 homes, 87 churches, 423 acres and four fifths of London destroyed.


1667 First fire insurance company established by Nicholas Barbon.

1668 Common Council decides that the City and Liveries (the inner suburbs) will be divided into four areas, each having 800 leather buckets, 50 ladders, 24 pick-axe hatchets and 40 shovels.

1680 First fire brigade formed by Barbon’s Fire Office.

1708 Parish Pumpers Act passed by Parliament, the first piece of fire prevention legislation, thus changing building regulations and establishing parish fire brigades.

1774 Act of Parliament passed resulting in the City of London having 218 engines with 80 in the rest of London.

1833 Formation of the London Fire Engine Establishment on 1st January by an amalgamation of 10 insurance company fire brigades under the leadership of James Braidwood. 19 fire stations and 80 firemen.

1834 Fire at Westminster Palace burns down the majority of the original Houses of Parliament. 64 men and 12 engines attended.

1836 Formation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire created to provide fire escape ladders throughout London.

1838 Fire at the Royal Exchange.

1841 Fire at the Tower of London.

1848 The first ball hydrants installed.

1860 London buys its first land steam fire engine.

1861 Fire at Tooley Street. James Braidwood killed. Fire costs insurance companies over £2 million, leading them to threaten to disband the London Fire Engine Establishment. Captain E.M Shaw takes over L.F.E.E.

1865 Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act passed, setting up the Metropolitan Fire Brigade under the authority of the Metropolitan Board of Works. Parish fire brigades in London disbanded, insurance companies relieved of their firefighting ‘duties.’

1866 Metropolitan Fire Brigade forms on 1st January under Captain Shaw. London has 17 land and 2 floating stations. New uniform introduced including brass helmet and navy blue tunic.

1867 MFB take over the fire escape ladders of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire. The Siemen Halske’s telegraph system is introduced to enable easy communication between stations.

1870s Firemen’s pay ranges between £1 4s 6d and £1 15s 0d.

1871 Death of Fireman Ford at Gray’s Inn Road. A public outcry forces the Metropolitan Board of Works to award a pension to his widow, which was subsequently taken away after a public fund for her raised ‘too much’ money.

1875 The London Auxiliary Fire Brigade is formed by Shaw to help solve chronic manpower problems.

1880 Shaw starts his massive survey of London theatres in an attempt to curtail the number of fatal theatre fires. The first system of street alarm posts is introduced. Telephones also introduced around this time.

1882 Alhambra Theatre Fire, Leicester Square. Prince of Wales (amateur fireman) nearly killed by falling wall.

1889 London County Council formed and takes over the MFB. London has 55 land and 4 floating stations.

1891 Captain Shaw retires from post of Chief Officer, his place taken over by James Sexton Simmonds.

1892 The Brigade numbers 825 men and costs £128,783 per year to run.

1894 London has 57 land and 4 floating stations.

1896 Simmonds forced to resign as CFO because of financial impropriety. Captain Wells takes over as CFO.

1897 Wheeled escape ladders begin to be mounted on horsed carriers for the first time. November, the Cripplegate fire in the City destroys 100 buildings at a cost of £1 million.

1898 The Brigade is now answering an average of 10 calls per day.

1899 Firemen no longer recruited exclusively from the Royal and Merchant Navies but ex-sailors continue to be preferred until the Second World War.

1900 Launch of ‘Alpha II’ - London’s first self-powered fire boat.

1902 Queen Victoria Street fire in the City, 9 are killed. The ladders were too short to reach the top floors, leading to much criticism of the Brigade. Hook ladders and longer escape ladders are introduced as a result.

1903 Captain Wells retires, Rear Admiral Hamilton takes over as CFO.

1904 Metropolitan Fire Brigade is renamed London Fire Brigade. London introduces its first motorised vehicles.

1905 First turntable ladder introduced, reaching to 82 feet.

1906 First motor escape vans introduced.

1909 Rear Admiral Hamilton retires and is succeeded by Lieutenant Commander Sladen. First pumping appliance entirely driven by motor engine introduced.

1913 London has 85 land and 3 river stations. First use of self-contained oxygen breathing apparatus.

1914 Outbreak of the First World War, one fifth of the LFB are in the navy reserve and are recalled for service, causing a manpower crisis.

1918 Fire and collapse at Albert Embankment results in the death of seven firemen. One other also killed in an accident made this the greatest loss of life on one day outside the war. Sladen retires as CFO and is replaced by Arthur Dyer.

1920 Two watch system introduced, reducing the working week to 72 hours; firemen are no longer required to live in the stations.

1921 Motorisation of the LFB completed, the last two horses are retired from Kensington Fire Station.

1933 Dyer retires as CFO and is replaced by Major Cyril Morris.

1934 Introduction of the ‘Dual Purpose’ appliance, which combines pumping with escape carrying machines.

1937 The Civil Defence Act is passed that enables local authorities to raise an Auxiliary Fire Service. Initial plans in London call for a force of 28,000 Auxiliary Firemen and Firewomen. London has 59 land and 3 river stations.
(June 30, 1937 - ``999'' emergency telephone service introduced in London. - Editor)

1938 The Fire Brigades Act is passed which formally requires all local authorities (except London) to have fire brigades. There are over 1,600 fire Brigades in the UK. CFO Morris retires and is aptly replaced by Commander Firebrace.

1939 Recruitment, training and equipping of AFS begins to advance rapidly. AFS mobilised on 1st September, London compiles a force of 23,000 Auxiliaries. There are over 300 AFS sub-stations. War declared on 3rd September. Commander Firebrace is seconded to the Home Officer, leaving DCO Jackson in command of the LFB.

1940 June: fireboat Massey Shaw is used in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk. August: Battle of Britain. 7th September: the Blitz hits begin; London is hit on 57 consecutive nights. 17th September: Harry Errington saves several colleagues from a burning shelter and thereby earns the George Cross. 29th December: firebomb attack on the City creates the “Second Great Fire of London.”

1941 10/11th May: massive attack on London, 17 firemen killed at St George’s Circus. 15th May: Blitz finishes. 18th August: nationalisation of the British Fire Service forming the National Fire Service (NFS); for the first time there is standardisation of organisation, ranks, equipment, drills, etc.

1944 June: V1 (flying bomb) attacks begin with London receiving 99 flying bombs on August 3rd. The fire service becomes fully committed to rescue and firefighting duties. September: V2 (missile) attacks commence.

1945 May: the Second World War ends and the fire service begins to downsize. August: Fireman Frederick Davies wins the George Cross for attempting the rescue of two girls in Harlesden, after which he died.

1948 The fire service is de-nationalised; control of the London Fire Brigade passes back to the LCC. Frederick Delve becomes Chief Officer. London has 58 land and 2 river stations.

1949 The Auxiliary Fire Service is re-established.

1951 November: first ever refusal of labour by London’s firefighters: only emergency calls answered in a dispute that called for parity with police pay. December: Broad Street fire, 3 firemen are killed and the DCO seriously injured.

1957 Lewisham train crash: 85 people killed.

1958 January: fire in Smithfield Market; StnO Fourt-Wells and Ff Stocking get lost in the cellars and die - the BA control system is brought in as a result. The last street alarm post is removed from London.

1962 CFO Delve retires and is replaced by Leslie Leete.

1965 The Greater London Council is created; the LFB expands to meet the borders of the GLC, and, in doing so, takes over the Middlesex, Croydon, West and East Ham Brigades plus large areas of Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire. London now has 115 land and 2 river stations.

1966 The Brigade celebrates its centenary with a Queen’s review at Lambeth.

1967 Hither Green rail crash.

1968 The Auxiliary Fire Service is disbanded.

1969 July: explosion at Dudgeons Wharf kills five firemen - the greatest loss of London firefighters in a single incident since the war.

1970s The HAZCHEM system is designed and implemented.

1970 CFO Leete retires and is replaced by Joseph.

1974-75 Compressed air breathing apparatus is introduced.

1974 A massive recruitment campaign takes place and training centres are set up around London.

1975 The Moorgate Tube disaster presents the Brigade with one of its most complex challenges.

1976 CFO Milner retires and is replaced by Peter Darby.

1977 Fireman’s strike.

1979 The Green Watch is created, thus lowering the working week from 48 to 42 hours.

1980 CFO Darby retires and is replaced by Ronald Bullers.

1982 Sue Batten becomes London’s, and Britain’s, first female firefighter.

1986 The GLC is abolished - control of the LFB passes to the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (LFCDA).

1987 CFO Bullers retires and is replaced by Gerald Clarkson. November: fire at King’s Cross Underground Station, StnO Townsley is among those that died.

1988 Clapham rail disaster.

1989 Introduction of Nomex firecoat finally replaces the blue wool fire tunic. This is shortly followed by Nomex leggings and Kevlar helmet, all introduced after shortcomings discovered at King’s Cross.

1991 Clarkson retires and is replaced by Brian Robinson. Automatic Distress Signal Units introduced for breathing apparatus.

1992 A mobile data system introduced enabling some officers to send information from appliances.

1995 London has 113 land and 1 river station.

1997 Draeger PA94 Plus model breathing apparatus introduced.

1998 London has 111 land and 1 river station.

1999 Introduction of the ‘Inferno’ fire uniform. LFB first brigade to use this. October: Paddington rail disaster.

2000 The change of local authority means LFCDA becomes The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA). The Talisman Thermal imaging Camera was introduced and the Akron Turbojet 1720 branch. “Odin” becomes the first fire investigation dog in the Brigade.

2002 The authority buys high specification chemical protection suits. The brigade's first community safety centre opens in Enfield. Brigade Museum achieves registered status. Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) announces strike, which takes place in November with a 48 hour and an eight day stoppage.TV’s salvage squad take on restoration of Massey Shaw.

2003 Opening of new Hammersmith fire station. Sixteen per cent pay increase, spread over two years agreed.Commissioner Brian Robinson retires after 36 years service. Deputy Commissioner Roy Bishop becomes Acting Commissioner. New fire safety centres open in Hammersmith and Bromley. Ken Knight becomes new London Fire Commissioner.

2004 The new mobilising system (ProCAD) comes online and Brigade Control moves to the Docklands. Richmond Fire Station becomes solar powered.