Pre-World War 2

Society for the Protection of Life from Fire

Whilst no Royal or National awards existed that were specific to members of fire brigades during the early developing years, it was possible to be awarded bronze and silver medals produced by the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire, which was formed in 1836.

National Fire Brigades Union

National Fire Brigades Association

Professional Fire Brigades Association 

The origins of the British Fire Services Association date back to the Midlands Fire Brigades Association which was formed in 1882 and, as the name suggests, membership consisted of the various local authority, private and industrial fire brigades in the area.

It was recognised by some serving officers that the time was appropriate to form a national organisation serving the needs of the rapidly growing number of fire brigades throughout the United Kingdom.  At the time it was recorded that some 900 brigades were known to be in existence.  The National Fire Brigades Union was formed in September 1887 and the Midlands Fire Brigades Association became the Midlands District of the newly formed organisation.

The new organisation quickly became recognised as the national voice and advisory body for the UK fire brigades.  Its membership grew year on year from 71 brigades who signed up as original members.  By the end of 1889 the membership had grown to 816 brigades.  By 1914 the membership had grown to 1000 individual fire brigades.  At the time the total number of brigades in existence was thought to be over 1900.

Amongst other claims, the NFBU prepared reports for Government and national bodies, set model rules and standards for brigades, established protocols for uniforms, drills, training, competitions, the design of appliances and equipment, and general organisation.  Also established in 1890 was a widows and orphans fund which, through the passage of subsequent organisation names, still exists today.

The national ‘Annual Camp’ became a major feature of fire brigade life when manufacturers would display and demonstrate equipment and brigades would train or take part in drill competitions.

The majority of the membership of the NFBU were from volunteer brigades and some of the growing number of professional brigades officers saw the need for a further organisation.  In 1918 a trade union for firemen was formed and to avoid any confusion and to distance itself from the trade union movement, the NFBU changed its name to the National Fire Brigades Association (NFBA).

The Association of Professional Fire Brigade Officers of the British Empire was subsequently formed in March 1902.  This newly formed organisation, which focussed its attention on those officers employed by professional fire brigades, worked easily with the NFBU, changing its name in 1920 to The Professional Fire Brigades Association (PFBA).

One component part of the Association that is rarely mentioned is the existence of the British Fire Prevention Committee (BFPC).  This organisation originally formed in 1897 and its purpose was to bring together firemen, architects and builders with a view to improving the fire protection designs in buildings.  They also undertook ‘scientific tests’ and published books detailing their investigations and findings.  In 1903 they organised an International Fire Prevention Congress held at Westminster and a Fire Exhibition at Earls Court, London.  This resulted in professional and volunteer Chief Fire Officers, architects, engineers, surveyors, insurance officials, legislators and municipal officers coming together to discuss a wide range of fire prevention issues over a 4 day period.  Some 700 delegates from around the world attended. The BFPC was merged into the NFBA in 1924.

Members of both leading organisations grew in strength and in knowledge as a result of the aims and objectives in their respective constitutions and both were involved in advising the Royal Commission of 1921 set up to look at the role and organisation of fire brigades.  They were also major players in advising the writers of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Act 1937 which led to the formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), recruited to be attached to local authority fire brigades, funded and equipped by the Home Office for use in time of war to deal with fires caused by the anticipated  and the creation of the Fire Brigades Act 1938, which resulted in the biggest reorganisation of the the UK fire services ever experienced.

World War II plunged the nation’s fire brigades into the frontline and in August 1941 the National Fire Service (NFS) was formed with control of all local authority brigades being passed directly to the Home Office who set about establishing national standards and guidance.

The formation of the NFS during the war and its continuation until April 1948 removed much of the role and purpose of both the NFBU and the PFBA.  This became more apparent when control of the fire service was handed back to designated local authorities at county and county borough level, reducing the number of fire brigades considerably.  Many of the lessons learned, standards, techniques, rank structure, etc, were handed to the newly formed fire brigades and continuing guidance was to be issued by the Fire Service Inspectorate established within the Home Office structure.

In 1949 the NFBA and the PFBA amalgamated to form the British Fire Services Association (BFSA) which continues to exist today.  Over the years the BFSA gradually changed its role to serving, as it does today, mainly industrial, private and airport fire brigades.  Its origins and traditions have served the British Fire Service well for over a century and this organisation can be rightfully proud of its history and achievements.

Following the creation of the BFSA in 1949 medals continued to be issued to many brigades until the introduction, by Royal Warrant, of the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (FBLSGC) in June 1954.  The award of the FBLSGC medal specifically precludes the wearing of any other long service medals.

Amongst the many services offered by the parent organisations of the past and the BFSA of today, has been the setting of standards for the design and the wearing of uniform together with the design and issue of badges, buttons and medals.

Medals issued by the various parent organisations of the BFSA include:


10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Services Rendered Decoration

Meritorious Service Decoration

NFBU Ambulance Department South Africa Medal


10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Meritorious Service Medal




Conspicuous Gallantry Decoration

Meritorious Service Decoration

10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Centenary Commemorative Award

Foreign Honorary Medal


Conspicuous Gallantry Medal

10 Year Bronze Medal

20 Year Silver Medal

Services Rendered Decoration

Meritorious Service Decoration

Note:  Bars and clasps for each additiona 5 years service are also awarded to the Long Service Medals listed above.

Various Honorary, Event Specific, Life membership, Competition etc medals were also produced.

There also existed, in different periods, a number of Private Fire Brigade Associations. The largest, The London Private Fire brigades association, formed in 1899, certainly had their own medals as did the Manchester and District Private Fire Brigades Association, the Derby Private Fire Brigades Association and others. In the post-WW2 period, the Industrial Fire Protection Association, (IFPA) became the main competitor to the British Fire Services Association, (BFSA).

Another short lived Association and which can cause confusion and this was The Fire Brigades Association. Created originally for Volunteer Fire Brigades, it only existed from 1876 to 1887 but it did have its own 10 years service medal.

Many local authority fire brigades issued their own design bravery, long service and commemorative medals before 1948, with a greatly reduced number still issuing their own until the introduction of the Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. A very small number of Fire and Rescue Services do still today issue their own medals for extended service and meritorious service.

Neither the WW2 era Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), nor the National Fire Service (NFS) issued their own medals. Members of both organisations, providing they achieved the qualifying period of service were entitled to claim The Defence Medal. This medal may still be claimed.

Members of the post-WW2 era Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) were issued with The Civil Defence Medal after 15 years of service.

Medals issued by the BFSA and its parent organisations should be worn on the right breast and not on the left, although they are often seen incorrectly worn by some, including together with the FBLSGCM.

National Awards 

Members of the fire service have over the years qualified for national awards issued under the Honours and Awards System. In the early years these were relatively few in number but those awarded were:

The Albert Medal

The Albert Medal was instituted in March 1866, originally to recognise gallantry at sea.  In 1876 a second version was struck which could be awarded for gallantry on land.  There were 2 classes for the award, with the First Class award in Gold and the Second Class award in Bronze.  The Gold version was replaced by the George Cross in 1949 and the Bronze version from that date could only be awarded posthumously.  The last such award was in August 1970.  In 1971 the medal was removed from the list of honours and holders of the award were invited to exchange theirs for the George Cross.  A very limited number of UK ‘firemen’ were awarded this medal.


Kings Police and Fire Service Medal

The first specific official national medal which members of fire brigade were eligible to receive was the Kings Police Medal, (KPM) originally instituted on 7 July 1909.  In December 1933 this one medal was replaced by 2 separate medals, utilising the same name, which could be awarded either for distinguished service or for gallantry.  On 20 August 1940, this same medal was renamed The Kings Police and Fire Services Medal (KPFSM).  In December 1940 it was announced that the Royal Warrant for the KPFSM had been extended to include the wartime (part time) constabulary and the Auxiliary Fire Service.  In 1951, the decision was taken not to award the KPFSM for gallantry except in posthumous cases, utilising the GC and GM in all other cases.


The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

The Order was founded by George V in 1917 to provide a means of rewarding civilian and military services during World War I.  In 1918 the Order was divided into military and civil divisions, the only difference being in the design of the ribbon.  From 1957 to 1974 it was possible for the Order to be awarded for gallantry.  When so awarded crossed silver oak leaves would be worn on the ribbon.  Today the Order is used to acknowledge the work of people across a very wide range of professions and activities.  The Order is ranked as follows:


Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE)

Knight or Dame Commander (KBE or DBE)

Commander (CBE)

Officer (OBE)

Member (MBE)

As an example, the full title for someone with the post nominals CBE would be Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The Medal of the Order of the British Empire

Introduced in 1917 primarily for ‘war workers’ but also as a lower grade rank medal for ‘those not of officer class’, originally in a single division but in 1918 changed to military and civil divisions.  The same medal was awarded for gallantry and for meritorious service until 1922, when 2 separate medals were introduced.  The gallantry award was more commonly referred to as the Empire Gallantry Medal (EGM) which continued in use until the introduction of the George Cross in 1940.

The second medal, for meritorious service, was referred to as the British Empire Medal (BEM).  As from 1940 it could be awarded for brave conduct and devotion to duty for acts that did not qualify for the George Cross.  For the period 1958 to 1974 it became a medal once again used for gallantry in which case crossed oak leaves were worn on the ribbon.  This practice ceased upon the institution of the Queens Gallantry Medal.  The issue of the BEM ceased in 1994 as part of a major review of the British Honours System, but was then reintroduced in 2012 as part of the Queens Diamond Jubliee celebrations, being specifically awarded to recognise the work of members of volunteer organisations.

In July 1920 it announced that 187  Fire Brigade members were be awarded the BEM for “great gallantry, courage and self sacrifice in connection with fires in munitions and chemical factories, ammunition dumps, ships, etc, or for rescues and work during air raids”. This was, and remains, an unprecedented number of awards to be given to members of Fire Brigades, at any one time. Outside of Londong with 45 medals being issued, the next highest was Ramsgate with 16 being issued. Within this list, other war-related actions at incidents were also recognized and the medals awarded to members of Fire Brigades were amongst some 250 awarded overall to civilians for war service.

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