NFS apparatus preserved today

The National Fire Service (NFS) was the single fire service created in Great Britain in 1941 during the Second World War; a separate National Fire Service (Northern Ireland) was created in 1942.[1]

Second World War poster encouraging women to join the National Fire Service

The NFS was created in August 1941 by the amalgamation of the wartime national Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and the local authority fire brigades (about 1,600 of them). Prior to this, many police forces were charged with attending fires, with Liverpool City Police being an early example of a Police Fire Brigade.[2] Amalgamating roles continued for some time until the need for a separate police and fire service was brought to the attention of the Home Office whom, on the report of a Royal Commission, brought about the NFS as a result of The Fire Brigade Act 1938.[3]

The NFS existed until 1948, when it was again split by the Fire Services Act 1947, with fire services reverting to local authority control, although this time there were far fewer brigades, with only one per county and county borough.

The NFS had full-time and part-time members, male and female. Its uniform was the traditional dark blue double-breasted tunic, and it adopted the peaked cap worn by the AFS instead of the peakless sailor-style cap which had been worn by many pre-war fire brigades (including the London Fire Brigade). The peaked cap was retained by fire services after the war.

When they were on duty, but in the frequent long stretches between calls, many firemen and firewomen performed vital wartime manufacturing work, in workshops in the fire stations or adjacent to them. This was entirely voluntary, but since many of the wartime personnel had worked in factories before the war it was work with which they were familiar and skilled.

War service meant considerable risk, and members of the NFS were called to attend the aftermath of German bombing raids and coastal shelling from France, or often whilst these attacks were still ongoing. Casualties were inevitable, and there is one record of one volunteer who died on duty aged just 19, and was awarded the Certificate for Gallantry as a result.[4] He is buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery, Deal, Kent.

The Chief of the Fire Staff and Inspector-in-Chief throughout the war (until 28 February 1947, when he retired) was Sir Aylmer Firebrace, former Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade.

At peak strength the NFS had 370,000 personnel, including 80,000 women.[5] The women were mostly employed on administrative duties.

The NFS was divided into about forty Fire Forces. These were subdivided into Divisions. Each Division had two Columns and each Column had five Companies.


National Fire Service Ranks[6]
Men Women Police equivalent[7]
Insignia[8] Rank Number in April 1947 Rank Number in April 1947 London Outside London
Fireman Firewoman Constable Constable
Leading Fireman Leading Firewoman
Section Leader Senior Leading Firewoman Sergeant Sergeant
Company Officer 1,100 Assistant Group Officer 50 Inspector Inspector
Senior Company Officer 250 Group Officer 27 Sub-Divisional Inspector Chief Inspector
Column Officer 382 Assistant Area Officer 1 Chief Inspector Superintendent
Divisional Officer 194 Area Officer 11 Superintendent Chief Superintendent
Assistant Fire Force Commander 52 Regional Woman Fire Officer 3 Deputy Commander
Fire Force Commander 53 Commander
Chief Regional Fire Officer
N/A Senior Staff Officer
N/A Inspector
N/A Chief of the Fire Staff & Inspector-in-Chief 1

Notable members

Members of the NFS who were well known in civilian life (or later became so) included:

An eleven-minute Second World War documentary that chronicles the birth and work of the NFS survived the war and is available to view on the British Pathe website.[11]

Service personnel received Certificate of Service documents.

National Fire Service Certificate of Service for Randall Whitford Roach
Certificate of Service for Leading Fireman, Randall Whitford Roach of Troon, Cornwall.

See also


  1. ^ Bangor Fire Brigade: A Brief History Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Dellius, Peter (May 2013). "Liverpool City Police Fire Brigade 1836-1939". Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  3. ^ "Police Fire Brigades". The Firefighters Memorial Trust. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  4. ^ "Casualty Details | CWGC".
  5. ^ Haley, Reginald (January 2012). "Firebrace, Sir Aylmer Newton George (1886–1972)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/66852. Retrieved 14 July 2013. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Industrial Court Decision 2088, 1 May 1947
  7. ^ Pay parity with equivalent police ranks was established from the outset for male officers (Company Officer and above). Firemen and Section Leaders were given parity with police Constables and Sergeants by Industrial Court Decision 2076, 18 December 1946, with Leading Firemen receiving an intermediate rate. Women never had pay parity.
  8. ^ Talbot-Booth, E.C. (1943). Ranks and Badges in the Navy, Army, RAF and Auxiliaries (PDF). London: George Philip & Son, Ltd. p. 32.
  9. ^ "Pub Colour Bar Is Removed: Len Johnson wins another fight". The Daily Worker. 3 October 1953. p. 9. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  10. ^ ""Boy Who Bowled Bradman" Dies of War Injuries". The Advocate. 29 January 1946. p. 1. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  11. ^ "The Birth of a Service (1940)". British Pathe Ltd. Archived from the original on 2 March 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2018.